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Employer kept nanny’s passport to stop her from leaving, court hears

Live-in caregiver Leticia Sarmiento arrives at the B.C. Supreme court in downtown Vancouver, May 30, 2013. Sarmiento, a mother of three, is suing her employers to recover the money she claims she's owed after working for them for four years without pay.


A man accused of keeping a Filipina nanny in domestic servitude for nearly two years held on to her passport because he feared she would flee upon arriving in Canada, a Vancouver police constable has told a human trafficking trial.

Constable Robin Shook was one of two officers who responded to the Vancouver home of Franco Orr and his wife Nicole Huen on June 13, 2010, after an altercation involving nanny Leticia Sarmiento. That incident resulted in Ms. Sarmiento leaving the home for good after what she says was two years of being forced to work 16-hour days, seven days a week, for little pay. The couple has pleaded not guilty to charges of organizing illegal entry into Canada and organizing illegal employment of a foreign national.

In B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, Constable Shook said Ms. Sarmiento seemed "visibly shaken, visibly upset" when he and Constable Craig Lapthorne attended the residence. After speaking with her, he asked Mr. Orr for her passport, which, earlier in the trial, Ms. Sarmiento had accused Mr. Orr of keeping so she could not leave.

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"I asked Mr. Orr to get Ms. Sarmiento's passport," he said. "Mr. Orr said that he had to have Ms. Sarmiento's passport because Filipino nannies would leave if you gave them the chance. Mr. Orr said that, frequently, employers would hire a nanny and pay for them to work for them, and then the employer would be waiting at the airport. As the nanny would show up, [the nanny] would just disappear."

Both constables testified that, when asked for Ms. Sarmiento's passport, Mr. Orr retrieved it from a plastic folder in the drawer of a desk in the living room. Neither constable remembered the drawer being locked.

Following the incident, Ms. Sarmiento told police she had worked for the couple in Hong Kong without problems for about a year. She claims she was tricked into moving to Canada in September, 2008, on the promise she would become a permanent resident after two years and the couple would help bring her family, including her three children, from the Philippines.

Instead, she says she was forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, taking care of the couple's three young children and doing all the housework. For her work, she was initially paid $500 a month and later $700 a month. Ms. Sarmiento claimed the couple locked the doors using a keypad and refused to let her out.

On Monday, Constable Shook said he had no recollection of anyone having to punch in a code on a keypad to enter or exit the residence. He also said he did not see anything out of the norm, such as physical restraints, although he acknowledged the incident was three years ago and his memory could have faded.

The trial also heard that Mr. Orr had brought Ms. Sarmiento into Canada on six-month visitor's visa, not the required work visa.

Nicholas Preovolos, the couple's lawyer, has suggested Ms. Sarmiento was treated as one of the family and was never kept in the jail-like conditions she described. After she claimed she was only allowed to phone home to the Philippines once a month, for example, Mr. Preovolos produced phone records with more than 100 calls to the Philippines during her time of employment, suggesting she was allowed to phone home whenever she wanted. Ms. Sarmiento denied this and said she did not recognize the number.

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The trial, which started May 29, continues. The defence is expected to begin this week.

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