A young woman who was allegedly kept in domestic servitude at a lavish West Vancouver home appeared "shut down" and submissive upon leaving the residence, even insisting on helping carry the purse of a responding police officer, according to Crown witnesses at a human trafficking trial in Vancouver.
Mumtaz Ladha, 60, is accused of bringing the worker to Canada from Tanzania and forcing her to work 18-hour days at her home in the British Properties – cooking, housekeeping, washing vehicles, giving massages, laundering undergarments by hand – for no pay and little food. The woman, whose identity is now shielded by a court-ordered publication ban, had previously worked as a "servant" for Ms. Ladha in Tanzania, and the two came to B.C. in August, 2008, when Ms. Ladha promised her a job at a Vancouver-area hair salon, police said when announcing charges in 2011.
Ms. Ladha is charged with one count related to bringing a person into Canada "by means of abduction, fraud, deception, or use of threat of force or coercion," one count of employing a foreign national illegally and two counts related to misrepresenting and withholding facts, all under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). She pleaded not guilty to all on Wednesday.
Police had said earlier that individuals who befriended the worker and were concerned for her well-being helped her leave the West Vancouver property in June 2009. She then sought assistance at a Salvation Army shelter.
At the opening of the trial on Wednesday morning, the court heard from several Crown witnesses, including a transition house worker and several police officers involved with the case.
Caroline Raymond, a former RCMP constable who served as human trafficking co-ordinator for the Pacific region, met with the young woman several times over about a 10-month period. She said the alleged victim, then in her early 20s, looked more like a teenager, lacked confidence, acted like a "young girl" and wanted to stay "abnormally close" to her. Ms. Raymond said the worker often insisted on holding her purse and helping her with other duties.
"She felt really uncomfortable not serving me," Ms. Raymond said.
Laurie Parker-Stuart, who worked as a violence counsellor at a Vancouver transition home, said she first met the alleged victim in early June, 2009, after receiving a "crisis call" from a support service society. "[The worker] expressed to me she knew it wasn't our usual sort of case – domestic violence, in the sense of the husband, the wife – but there were concerns," Ms. Parker-Stuart said.
"Certainly, there was a question as to whether it might be considered human trafficking, something we didn't deal with with great frequency at that time."
The workers decided to bring the alleged victim into the transition house to further assess the situation. Ms. Parker-Stuart described her as "very closed" and "under stress." She was "very happy that meals were available" at the transition house, Ms. Parker-Stuart said.
When asked by Crown counsel if the woman, whose first language is Swahili, had any connections in the community, Ms. Parker-Stuart said: "She didn't really have anyone."
Constable Kelly English, dispatched to help retrieve the woman's belongings from the the Ladha residence, said the passport was not immediately available, but Ms. Ladha's daughter, Zahra, was able to produce it the next day.
The officer described the worker's room as small, with three or four feet between the bed and a cabinet. There was a television and an ensuite bathroom, she said. Constable English said she retrieved one garbage bag full of the woman's clothing and there was roughly enough remaining to fill another bag – testimony that appears to contradict initial police reports that suggested she did not have much clothing while residing with the Ladhas.
While there have been dozens of human trafficking cases under the Criminal Code of Canada, there has only ever been one human trafficking conviction under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
In a landmark verdict, Franco Orr, of Vancouver, was found guilty in late June of employing a foreign national illegally and misrepresenting facts that could induce an error. He is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-October. The Crown is seeking five or six years in jail, while the defence is calling for a conditional sentence.
The trial of Ms. Ladha, which is scheduled for four weeks, continues.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story, and a version published in print, included the name of the worker, whose identity has since been shielded by a court-ordered publication ban. This version has been updated to remove the name.