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Nanny pleaded to come to Canada, trial told

Franco Orr, left, and Nicole Huen walk back to B.C. Supreme Court for the human-trafficking trial tied to their former nanny Leticia Sarmiento in Vancouver, June 13, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A Filipina nanny who claims she was tricked into coming to Canada on the promise of becoming a permanent resident was told explicitly by a customs agent she could remain in the country for only six months, a human trafficking trial has heard.

Franco Orr and his wife, Nicole Huen, are charged with human trafficking for allegedly bringing Leticia Sarmiento to B.C. from Hong Kong and forcing her into domestic servitude. They have pleaded not guilty. The couple says the trip was intended to last only two or three months, after which they would return to Hong Kong and Ms. Sarmiento to the Philippines.

On Thursday, Mr. Orr took the stand for a second day, telling the jury Ms. Sarmiento filled out the forms for her visa application in Hong Kong and was told by a customs agent upon arrival at Vancouver International Airport it was only a temporary visitor's visa.

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That discussion happened at a secondary inspection on the day they arrived, in September, 2008, Mr. Orr told the court.

"They asked her, 'Do you know you're supposed to have a live-in caregiver, something, work visa?'" he said. "She answered to the officer: 'I don't know.'

"They also told her specifically she is only allowed to remain in the country for 183 days and she must be leaving the country after."

Meanwhile, Mr. Orr testified that he thought Ms. Sarmiento could work for the couple in B.C. with the temporary visitor's visa because the trip was only a visit.

Earlier in the trial, Ms. Sarmiento told the court she had worked for the couple in Hong Kong without problems for about a year. She came to Canada with the family in September, 2008, on the promise she would be paid more, become a permanent resident and the couple would help bring her family over, she claimed.

Instead, she says she worked 16-hour days, without a day off, and was forbidden to leave the home. For her work, she was paid $500 a month and later $700 a month – the figure the parties agreed upon in a Hong Kong contract.

The defence has said Mr. Orr told her in Hong Kong to seek new employment after he suffered a "catastrophic business failure" and could not afford to pay her. When the family decided to stay with Ms. Huen's parents in Vancouver so that Mr. Orr could explore new work opportunities, Ms. Sarmiento "pleaded" to come along as she was worried about her employment prospects because she had been fired before, the court was told.

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"They felt that it wouldn't hurt if … they let her stay on for a while, at least to work out more of her contract, that it would be better for her, and that it would be helpful, to some degree for them, and not overly costly," the couple's lawyer, Nicholas Preovolos, said on Wednesday. Ms. Sarmiento was treated like family, but relations soured when her visa expired and she refused to return to the Philippines, the defence claims.

Ms. Sarmiento testified Mr. Orr kept her passport so she could not flee; Mr. Preovolos called witnesses from two Vancouver banks who said Ms. Sarmiento used her passport as identification. Ms. Sarmiento said she was permitted only one phone call a month in her 21 months working for the couple in B.C.; Mr. Preovolos presented phone statements from the Vancouver residence that had nearly 100 calls to a number in the Philippines.

The trial continues.

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