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British Columbia Worked for accused since age 14, woman tells human-trafficking trial

Mumtaz Ladha waits to get into an elevator to go back into court from an underground parkade at the end of the first day of a human trafficking trial at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Wednesday September 4, 2013.


Long before she was allegedly enslaved in a West Vancouver home, the complainant in a B.C. human-trafficking case says she worked up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, for the accused in Tanzania – dating back to when she was just a teenager.

The woman, now 25, took the stand in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday to testify against Mumtaz Ladha. Ms. Ladha, 60, is accused of bringing the woman – who cannot be named under a publication ban – to Canada under false pretenses and forcing her to work long hours, for no pay, in her luxurious West Vancouver home.

Speaking through a Swahili interpreter, the alleged victim told the court she had to find employment in her early teens after her mother – who had supported her and her two older siblings by working in a hotel – died. She quit nursing school in Tanzania and, at 14, began working as a housekeeper in Ms. Ladha's Dar es Salaam home, working 10- or 11-hour days, six days a week, for 50,000 Tanzanian shillings a month, or just over $30.

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She was one of nine workers at the home, all of whom slept in staff quarters separate from the main house, she told the court. The other workers included a driver, two cooks and three cleaners.

Three years later, in 2005, the woman became pregnant and moved back into her own home, where she was supported by her sister and brother-in-law.

When the baby was about a year old, the woman began looking for work again and bumped into Ms. Ladha, who offered her a job as a cleaner in a salon that she owned.

The woman accepted, and over the course of about a year also learned to do manicures and pedicures and give massages.

She was initially paid 50,000 shillings a month, the same amount she earned as a housekeeper, and later 100,000 shillings – which was still less than what the other workers made performing the same tasks, she told the court.

The woman will resume her testimony on Thursday, when she is expected to tell of her move with Ms. Ladha to West Vancouver.

Earlier on Wednesday, the court heard from a community health worker who, in 2009, helped the woman flee the West Vancouver home for a shelter.

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Tigist Begashaw told the court she first met the young woman at a bus stop in 2009 and the two met three or four more times after that. During those meetings, the woman allegedly told Ms. Begashaw about her living and working conditions and that she couldn't go home to Tanzania because her passport was withheld from her. Ms. Begashaw told the court she gave the woman food and money because she said she was hungry.

While Ms. Begashaw did not, at the Crown's request, disclose details about their conversations, she said she initially felt skeptical about the woman's story, prompting defence counsel to suggest the woman was really trying to con her out of her money.

"Would you at least agree that scenario is a real possibility?" Eric Gottardi asked Ms. Begashaw.

"Yes," she replied.

Ms. Begashaw said she eventually suggested the woman seek help at a shelter. The woman did so, and the police later visited Ms. Ladha's home to retrieve the alleged victim's belongings and passport.

Ms. Ladha is charged with 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.

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She has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

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