The human trafficking case being heard in B.C. Supreme Court is a complicated stew that mixes language, culture and ethnicity and highlights the vast chasm between the wealthy and privileged and the abjectly poor.
How it turns out will rest largely on the testimony of the 26-year-old former housemaid.
Her former employer, Mumtaz Ladha, is accused of human trafficking, employing a foreign national without authorization and misrepresenting facts to both the Canadian High Commission in Tanzania and to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
If convicted, the West Vancouver businesswoman faces a maximum penalty for trafficking under the Immigration Act of $1 million and life in prison.
On Monday, the young woman returned to the witness stand after a two-day adjournment to search for an interpreter better able to translate her distinctive Tanzanian dialect of Swahili. Finally, her story is coming out more fluently.
Orphaned at 14, she was forced to quit school after completing Grade 8 and was 1½ years into her nursing training. After working briefly as a nanny, she was hired before her 15th birthday by Ladha as an upstairs maid, joining a staff of nine in Ladha’s Dar es Salaam home.
The young woman was 18 when she got pregnant and left Ladha’s home for nearly a year to care for her son. Her sister and brother-in-law supported the single mother and her baby as best they could.
But within a year, the young woman went back to Ladha’s posh neighbourhood, favoured by expatriates. She was resting on the sidewalk in the midst of her door-to-door search for work. Ladha recognized her, stopped her driver and told the young woman that she could work as a cleaner at a salon and spa that she owned.
The young woman learned how to do pedicures, manicures and massage at the spa. Ladha increased her wage and then in December 2007 asked the young mother if she would travel to Canada with her. No, was her initial answer. But the young woman testified Monday that she didn’t really believe Ladha was serious.
A few weeks later, Ladha asked again, only this time suggesting that it would be for six months and the young woman could work in a spa that she planned to open in Canada for $200 a month. It was a salary that the woman said seemed good compared to what she earned in Tanzania.
“If I had refused to come, she would have fired me because she had paid for everything [the passport, visa and ticket to Canada],” she said, speaking through a translator.
According to the woman’s testimony, Ladha filled out the passport application for her, even finding a “fake uncle” to give the required familial permission because she was only 20.
Ladha wrote a letter to the Canadian High Commission “humbly requesting” that the young woman who had “faithfully” looked after her be given a visitor’s visa to come to Canada with Ladha, who was in ill health.
In the letter, Ladha described the woman — who has a Grade 8 education — as having been her “personal assistant and companion” for the past seven years.
The visa was granted. Ladha had already left Tanzania, but left instructions with the salon manager for what was to happen next.
Ladha’s driver picked the young woman up at home and delivered her to the airport, where she was taken in hand by another Ladha employee — the “fake uncle” who filled out the exit forms. He handed her the passport and airline ticket and took her to the gate. There, he gave her a phone number to call Ladha when she arrived in Nairobi and a prepaid phone card.
When she arrived in Nairobi, the number didn’t work, but she testified that Ladha texted her. They would meet her in London.
Speaking no English, she struggled to find her way through the airport, getting by only by showing her ticket.
Ladha didn’t meet her at the gate in London. Again, she said, she showed strangers her ticket and they indicated she had to take a bus to get to another terminal. Finally, after walking around for several hours, Ladha arrived for the flight to Vancouver.
It was evening when they arrived at Ladha’s $4-million West Vancouver home. The young woman had been travelling for two days.
There were moving boxes in the garage and kitchen, and Ladha set her to work emptying them. At 1 a.m., she told her to go to bed.
Several times during her testimony, the young woman said she had no choice. When Ladha said something, “You couldn’t say no.”
She never asked why she slept in a windowless room off the pool, while there were two empty bedrooms upstairs. She didn’t complain (even though she wasn’t happy that Ladha had taken her passport and locked it in the safe).
Even though she said she realized at one point that Ladha had lied to her about working in a spa, it never occurred to her to ask why.
Her testimony continues Tuesday.
© Copyright 2013