Family friends of a West Vancouver woman accused of keeping a young Tanzanian woman a virtual slave inside a British Properties mansion testified this week that they never saw the young woman unhappy and that she appeared to be treated as a member of the family.
Two family friends testified Monday morning at the human trafficking trial of West Vancouver businesswoman Mumtaz Ladha, 60, who faces four charges under the
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Earlier in the trial, the 26 year-old woman who the Crown alleges was forced to be an unpaid domestic servant in Ladha's Bramwell Road home testified that she was lured to Canada from Tanzania with promises of a job in a beauty salon Ladha planned to open.
But when she got here, the woman said she was instead forced to work 18 hours a day doing everything from cleaning bathrooms to washing the family's laundry by hand, washing windows and serving meals.
The woman testified she slept in a small windowless room off the pool. She told the judge she was not allowed to eat with the family and had to wear a uniform to greet guests when Ladha hosted parties.
That version of events was in sharp contrast to the testimony of Ladha family friends who testified Monday about the closeness they had observed between Ladha and the young woman they described as a "guest" or companion of Ladha.
Nurez Kassam, a veterinarian who lives just a block away from Ladha in the British Properties and regularly visits the family, said he observed the young woman being included in social gatherings both in the Ladha home and at other events, including dinners out to restaurants and trips to the movies.
Kassam said the young woman and Ladha appeared to get along well. "They would be giggling and talking," he said.
Kassam said he never saw the young woman doing any domestic work in the home or observed Ladha treat her like an employee. Kassam added the young woman referred to Ladha by the Ismaili word for "mama."
In cross-examination, Crown counsel Peter LaPrairie questioned Kassam on his characterization of the young woman's role in the Ladha household.
LaPrairie suggested in the more than 20 years Kassam has known Ladha, her 7,000 square foot house has always been immaculate. "She's always had a housekeeper working in her home, hasn't she?" he asked.
"You've never seen Mrs. Ladha vacuuming the house have you?" he asked. "You've never seen her washing the floors?"
LaPrairie also questioned why if the young woman was a guest who was treated like family, did Kassam not check on her after Ladha returned to Africa in February 2009, leaving her in the home alone with Ladha's daughter, who was frequently away.
"I was busy working," said Kassam. "I'm working six days a week."
A second friend of the Ladha family, Zul Somani, also testified Monday.
Somani, manager of a $1-billion hotel chain that includes the Pan Pacific, said he met the young woman during a dinner at Ladha's house.
"(Ladha) told me (the young woman) was here as her guest and companion," he said.
Somani said everyone ate together at one table. "It was a family gathering," he said.
"Did it appear to you that (the young woman) was Mrs. Ladha's housekeeper," asked defence lawyer Tony Paisana.
"No," said Somani. The trial continues.
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