The human-trafficking trial for a woman accused of enslaving a young woman in her West Vancouver home and forcing her to work as a domestic servant is set to open in B.C. Supreme Court.
Mumtaz Ladha, of West Vancouver, is charged with one count of human trafficking and three counts related to misrepresenting facts under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). One count of human smuggling was dropped after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Arne Silverman struck down that section of the legislation earlier this year, deeming it overly broad and unconstitutional.
The trial begins Wednesday and is expected to last four weeks.
According to police and court records, Ms. Ladha, 60, previously employed the young woman, who was in her early 20s at the time, as a “servant” in both her home and at a hair salon she owned in Tanzania. In early 2008, Ms. Ladha allegedly told her there was no more work available in Tanzania, but offered her a job at a Vancouver-area salon.
Immediately upon her arrival in August, 2008, the woman was forced to work 18 hours a day in Ms. Ladha’s West Vancouver home – cooking, housekeeping, landscaping, washing vehicles of the Ladha family and its guests, giving daily massages and washing underwear by hand, police said when announcing charges in 2011. The Ladha family kept her passport and she was not given enough food – sometimes only table scraps, police said.
Individuals who befriended the woman and were concerned for her well-being helped her leave the property in June, 2009, police said. She then sought assistance at a Salvation Army shelter.
Police have not identified the alleged victim.
Defence will argue that the woman came to Canada as a companion of Ms. Ladha’s and was a “friend of the [family’s] who was treated like a daughter,” Ms. Ladha’s lawyer, Eric Gottardi, said Tuesday.
“Ultimately, when the time came for her to go back home, and her visa was expiring, she decided that she wanted to stay in Canada.”
Mr. Gottardi said the defence’s evidence will show that the allegations the woman was kept like a slave, locked inside the home and not fed are “preposterous.”
“I think you’ll find that even the theory that’s advanced by the Crown [on Wednesday] will be very different than the picture that was painted in the initial allegations,” he said.
Police announced charges against Ms. Ladha in May, 2011, and she was arrested two months later at Vancouver International Airport upon her return to Canada from what was believed to be a trip to Tanzania.
The trial begins 10 weeks after the landmark human trafficking conviction of Franco Orr, a Vancouver man accused of keeping a Filipina nanny in domestic servitude. While there have been about 50 human trafficking convictions under the Criminal Code of Canada, Mr. Orr’s was the first-ever human trafficking conviction under IRPA. Authorities and domestic worker advocacy groups hailed it as precedent-setting.
Mr. Orr, who was also found guilty of employing a foreign national illegally and misrepresenting facts that could induce an error, is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-October. The Crown is seeking five or six years in jail, while the defence is calling for a conditional sentence.