For the second time in a year, a B.C. court is hearing details of alleged human trafficking involving women apparently duped into coming to Canada on promises of good jobs, only to become essentially household slaves.
Mumtaz Ladha, a resident of wealthy West Vancouver, is charged with one count of human trafficking and three counts of misrepresenting facts to immigration authorities.
Ladha is accused of luring a 21-year-old African woman, who can't be named under a court-ordered publication ban, to come with her to Canada on the promise of a job in a hair salon, The Canadian Press reported.
Instead, the young woman was put to work as a household servant working 18 hours a day in Ladha's $4-million home in West Van's exclusive British Properties, the Crown alleges.
The trial comes just weeks after Franco Yiu Kwan Orr was convicted of bringing his family's Filipina nanny to Vancouver from Hong Kong under false pretenses in 2008, then forcing her to work 16-hour days, seven days a week. He hasn't been sentenced yet.
Besides her work as a nanny, she was forced to cook and clean and was kept in virtual confinement. The woman called police in 2010 after an altercation with Orr's partner, Oi Ling Nicole Huen, who was acquitted.
Ladha's lawyer, Eric Gottardi, told the court Wednesday she simply brought a family friend from Tanzania to Canada, CP reports.
“This person was a companion who came with Mrs. Ladha and basically was treated like a member of the family,” Gottardi said outside the court.
“The issue of work and what is work and who was doing what around the house — those will be some of the issues at trial.”
The alleged victim came to Canada in 2008 and turned up at a women's shelter about a year ago.
The Globe and Mail reported that according to police records, Ladha had employed the woman as a servant at her home and the hair salon she owned in Tanzania. It's alleged she told the woman there was no more work in Tanzania but offered her a job at a Vancouver-area salon.
But once they got to Canada, Ladha allegedly put her to work cooking, housekeeping, maintaining the yard and washing the cars of Ladha's family and guests. She also had to give daily massages and wash underwear by hand, police said when Ladha was charged in 2011, the Globe reported.
Shelter counsellor Laurie Parker-Stuart described the woman as closed and stressed when she arrived. She had no passport and spoke Swahili and broken English.
"She came with the clothes she wore," Parker-Stuart testified. "She really didn’t have anything."
West Vancouver police officer Const. Kelly English said she went to Ladha's home overlooking English Bay to retrieve the woman's passport and belongings from a windowless, metre-wide room, which had its own bathroom.
A few days after the young woman fled the home, the shelter got a "very angry, loud" phone call from Ladha's adult daughter, Zara, CP reported.
She also requested a copy of the police report on the case, said Staff Sgt. Graydon Findlay told Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon, who is hearing the case without a jury.
Findlay testified Zara Ladha told him her mother was in Tanzania at the time and implied the victim's family had threatened Ladha after the alleged victim went to the shelter.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada employee Jessica Poon testified Thursday that Ladha initially sought a visa application for a nanny in June 2008 but was turned down because the form did not contain enough specifics, CKNW reported.
Ladha submitted another application later that month, Poon said, this time for a live-in caregiver. Poon noted housekeeping is not usually part of that job description.
In earlier testimony, the RCMP human trafficking co-ordinator Caroline Raymond said she interviewed the alleged victim several times. She told the court her notes show the Ladhas never threatened to send the woman back to Tanzania.
“On the contrary, they kept telling her to stop crying like a baby and to get back to work, back in Canada, as she needed to work a little longer for them to repay Mumtaz the cost of bringing her to Canada," Raymond, who has since retired from the RCMP, testified.