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Franco Orr, left, and Nicole Huen are the defendants in a B.C. Supreme Court human-trafficking trial. (DARRYL DYCK for the globe and mail)
Franco Orr, left, and Nicole Huen are the defendants in a B.C. Supreme Court human-trafficking trial. (DARRYL DYCK for the globe and mail)

‘Obvious lies’ ruin nanny’s credibility, defence argues Add to ...

Listing off a dozen of Leticia Sarmiento’s “obvious lies,” the lawyer for a Vancouver couple charged with human trafficking made his last effort to convince jurors there simply isn’t enough evidence to convict his clients.

In his closing address on Thursday, Nicholas Preovolos told the jury in B.C. Supreme Court the Crown’s case is built on the evidence of a person “proven to be a liar.” Ms. Sarmiento, a Filipina nanny who previously worked for Franco Orr and his wife Nicole Huen in Hong Kong, has accused the couple of tricking her into coming to Canada and forcing her into domestic servitude. Mr. Orr and Ms. Huen are both charged with organizing illegal entry into Canada and organizing illegal employment of a foreign national; Mr. Orr also faces a charge of misrepresenting facts.

“Ms. Sarmiento sat in that witness box, she swore an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and then lied to this court repeatedly,” Mr. Preovolos said.

“She was evasive, she gave excuse after excuse after excuse for obvious lies and inconsistencies in her evidence and she regularly exaggerated and embellished her testimony.”

To illustrate his point, Mr. Preovolos listed 12 “lies” Ms. Sarmiento supposedly told during the course of the three-week trial. They included allegations the couple had locked her in the family home; that she was allowed only one phone call home to the Philippines each month; that she was unaware of her immigration status; and that photos of birthday cakes bearing her name were not in fact for her.

“You have to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Orr or Ms. Huen are guilty of the offences they have been charged with,” Mr. Preovolos said. “Reasonable doubt can arise when [there is] evidence that you do not entirely accept.”

Meanwhile, Crown prosecutor Peter LaPrairie insisted it was Mr. Orr who established a pattern of deceit, using fraud and deception to bring Ms. Sarmiento to Canada for the purpose of exploiting her.

The couple’s move to Canada from Hong Kong was permanent – not merely a temporary visit, as the defence claims – and the couple used a power imbalance to create an atmosphere of intimidation, Mr. LaPrairie told the jury.

The couple’s move to Canada from Hong Kong was permanent – not merely a temporary visit, as the defence claims – and the couple used a power imbalance to create an atmosphere of intimidation, Mr. LaPrairie told the jury.

Ms. Sarmiento was persuaded to come to Canada and trusted her employer to obtain the appropriate work permit, Mr. LaPrairie said. Upon arrival, she worked morning to night, her movements were restricted and her life was controlled by Mr. Orr and Ms. Huen, he said. He recalled Ms. Sarmiento’s testimony that she was prohibited from leaving the family home and was only permitted a limited number of phone calls home to the Philippines.

“She was exploited by them in Canada,” he told the jury. “This was not the life they promised her in Hong Kong. She testified that if she had known what was in store for her in Canada, she would not have left Hong Kong with them.

“[Mr. Orr] controlled her from the moment she arrived with the family.”

Justice Richard Goepel will give his instructions to the jury on Monday, at which point the eight women and four men will begin deliberations.

To date, there have been only four human trafficking cases in B.C., with no convictions.

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