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Leticia Sarmiento arrives at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, May 30, 2013. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press)
Leticia Sarmiento arrives at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, May 30, 2013. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press)

Employer testifies in B.C. human-trafficking trial Add to ...

A couple accused of keeping a Filipina nanny in domestic servitude first met their accuser six years ago when they hired her, in kindness, so she would not be forced to return to the Philippines, a human trafficking trial has heard.

For the first time since the trial opened two weeks ago, Franco Orr gave evidence in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday to defend himself and his wife, Nicole Huen. The two have pleaded not guilty to human trafficking charges, which carry a maximum fine of $1-million, life in prison or both.

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Before a jury on Wednesday, Mr. Orr shed light on his background, which included the death of his mother when he was a child, an unhappy home in Hong Kong and a thirst for education and entrepreneurial spirit that took him from Hong Kong to Canada to the United States to Cambodia.

Mr. Orr met Ms. Huen in 1998, the two married in 2003, and by the spring of 2007, they had two young children and a third on the way. Because of his work in real estate development at that time, Mr. Orr frequently travelled to Cambodia while Ms. Huen remained in Hong Kong.

“I [felt] bad I couldn’t give her a lot of time,” Mr. Orr said, sobbing. As nannies are paid only about $500 a month in Hong Kong, he opted to employ two to assist his wife. At an employment agency, the couple interviewed several nannies, one of whom was Leticia Sarmiento.

“The information was she was fired by her previous employer,” he told the court. “We did discuss this matter during the interview. She was only given two weeks’ time, according to Hong Kong law, to look for a new employer. It was coming to the point that she would have to [return to the Philippines] in about a week.”

It was at Ms. Huen’s insistence that he employed Ms. Sarmiento, Mr. Orr said. His wife liked the fact Ms. Sarmiento had taken care of newborns previously while working as a nanny in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, and wanted to help with her employment dilemma.

“I think back [and] my wife should not have picked her,” he said. “But my wife is [generous]. She told me, ‘Franco, why don’t we help her?’ Initially, I didn’t want to hire her.”

Ms. Sarmiento has testified that she worked with the couple in Hong Kong for about a year with no problems, but was tricked into coming to Canada with them in September, 2008, on the promise she would be paid more, become a permanent resident and the couple would help bring her family over. Instead, she worked 16 hour days, without a day off, and was prohibited from leaving the residence, she claimed.

The couple’s lawyer, Nicholas Preovolos, has said Ms. Sarmiento “pleaded” to join the couple in Canada, and relations soured only when her temporary visa expired and she refused to return to the Philippines.

B.C. has had only four human trafficking cases, and no convictions.

The trial continues.

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