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$3M home faces seizure

Property owner accused of human trafficking

THE home of a West Vancouver woman who has been charged with human trafficking may soon be the property of the B.C. government, if the Supreme Court approves a forfeiture claim filed earlier this week.

The province's director of civil forfeiture filed the claim on the grounds that the $3.1-million house on Bramwell Road belonging to Mumtaz Ladha was "an instrument of unlawful activity."

According to the statement of facts attached to the application, Ladha originally hired the victim of the alleged trafficking at her family home and salon in Tanzania. In early 2008, she promised the woman a job at a salon in Canada for a $200 monthly income, said investigators.

But the woman told police that upon her arrival in August of that year, she was made to work 18 to 22 hours per day cooking, cleaning, landscaping, washing vehicles, providing daily massages and washing undergarments by hand.

Police also noted that the servant's initial application for a visitor visa failed, and that her second one was only approved because Ladha provided a doctor's note, which stated she needed assistance for a health condition.

The alleged victim later told police Ladha was in fact "in perfect health."

Based on that evidence, the province is seeking part or all of Ladha's property. If approved, money from the sale of the home will go into a "special account that fully funds the activities of the civil forfeiture office," according to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

For civil forfeiture claims to be approved, evidence must meet the civil standard of proof - a balance of probabilities - as opposed to the higher criminal standard, beyond reasonable doubt. It's a point that the B.C. Civil Liberties Association takes issue with.

"The concern we have is one of what we call 'due process' and the kinds of protections you have in the criminal process are incredibly important," said Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BCCLA.

"This is essentially a trick to get around it."

Often, the property seized only has a tenuous connection to the offence, she added, citing Ladha's case as an example.

"What does this have to do with the house except for that's where they were? It's not like this person was exploited, ergo this person was allowed to acquire the house," she said.

While some proceeds are said to support victims of crime, Vonn would like to see more transparency.

According to the ministry, $250,000 of forfeiture money was used to help fund the province's domestic violence action plan this year.

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