The alleged victim at the centre of a human-trafficking trial in B.C. first realized she had been duped less than a day after arriving in Canada.
The woman, who cannot be named under a publication ban, had flown to Vancouver from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after her employer, Mumtaz Ladha, promised her temporary work at a local salon. But the day after she arrived at Ms. Ladha’s $4-million West Vancouver home, she was handed a set of uniforms and told one of Ms. Ladha’s former housekeepers would arrive that day to show her where the cleaning supplies were located and train her for domestic work, the woman testified in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday.
“I was surprised,” the woman, now 26, told the court through an interpreter. “She had told me I was coming to work at a salon.” But she didn’t protest, because when Ms. Ladha “asks you to do something, you don’t say no,” she said.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard the woman had lived a life of hardship and poverty in Tanzania and began working as a housekeeper for Ms. Ladha at 14.
She stopped working as a housekeeper in 2005, when she had a baby, but later returned to work for Ms. Ladha again, this time as a cleaner at a salon Ms. Ladha owned. For that work, she first made 50,000 Tanzanian shillings a month – just over 30 Canadian dollars – and double that when she learned how to do manicures and pedicures and give massages.
In early 2008, Ms. Ladha began telling the young woman she would take her to Canada, said the alleged victim, who initially declined the offer because she did not want to leave her son. But Ms. Ladha persisted, sweetening the deal by telling the woman she planned to open a salon in Vancouver and would pay her $200 a month to work at it. After six months, the two would travel back to Tanzania, Ms. Ladha allegedly promised.
The immigration process was fraught with lies, the woman claimed: Ms. Ladha had obtained a passport and visa for the woman by fraudulent means and instructed her, if asked by customs officials, to say she was going to Canada for school.
When she and Ms. Ladha arrived in Vancouver in August, 2008, Ms. Ladha’s daughter picked them up at the airport and drove them to the West Vancouver home – where the woman claims she was immediately put to work unpacking boxes for hours before finally retiring to a small, windowless bedroom.
“I assumed they were things for the salon,” she told the court.
The next morning, Ms. Ladha handed her two pale blue, sleeveless dresses, telling her this would be her daily uniform. A white uniform, for when the Ladhas hosted parties, came later.
Ms. Ladha also demanded the woman’s passport for safekeeping, the woman testified. “I said I wanted to keep it but she said, ‘No, all the passports are kept in the safe.’”
From that day forward, the woman worked long hours daily, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, preparing meals and serving the Ladha family and its guests, she said. She was never paid and did not question Ms. Ladha about the promises of work at a salon.
She fled the residence in June, 2009, and sought assistance at a local shelter.
Ms. Ladha has pleaded not guilty to four counts under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act: human trafficking; employing a foreign national without authorization; misrepresenting facts to the High Commission of Canada in Tanzania; and misrepresenting facts to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The trial continues.