BRITISH COLUMBIA

Alleged trafficker sought job for woman, but visa applications stalled: witness

10/28/2013 04:21 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
VANCOUVER - A wealthy Vancouver-area woman accused of illegally bringing a domestic servant into Canada asked her lawyer to prepare a work visa application for the alleged victim because she had found the young African woman a possible job, a human trafficking trial heard Monday.

But the lawyer, who worked for Mumtaz Ladha, says the work permit application stalled and the job never materialized. Instead, he held onto the alleged victim's passport for months after her visitor's visa was due to expire.

Ladha is accused of lying to immigration officials in Tanzania to bring the young woman, who is now 26, to Canada and then employing her illegally at her home in West Vancouver after they arrived in August 2008.

The Crown has alleged Ladha enticed the young woman, who she previously employed in Tanzania, with the promise of a passport and a job at a hair salon. Instead, the Crown contends, she was forced to work long hours as an unpaid servant.

The woman can't be named because of a publication ban.

The trial has previously heard that Ladha brought the woman to Canada on a temporary travel visa, indicating on the visa application that the woman would be helping Ladha with a medical condition.

Fiesal Ebrahim, who had been Ladha's civil lawyer for several years, said she approached him in January 2009 — the same month the young woman's visitor's visa was due to expire — and indicated the woman wanted to stay in Canada.

Ebrahim suggested one option would be to apply for a work visa, provided she had a job offer to show immigration officials.

Ladha replied that a hotel manager she knew might be able to line up a job for the woman, Ebrahim told the court.

"Had you sensed anything untoward or suspicious about the instructions you had received from Ms. Ladha?" asked defence lawyer Tony Paisana.

"No," replied Ebrahim.

"From your interactions with Ms. Ladha, did it appear she was trying to help (the woman)?" Paisana continued.

"Yes, very much so," replied Ebrahim. "She asked me, 'If (the woman) wants to stay in Canada, what are the options to help her?' And naturally, I obliged."

Ebrahim said he never received a copy of any job offer from the hotel manager and, consequently, never submitted any applications to either Citizenship and Immigration Canada or to Service Canada.

During the January 2009 meeting, Ladha turned over the woman's passport for the purposes of eventually applying for the work visa, said Ebrahim.

The court has heard the woman's travel visa was due to expire earlier that month.

Ebrahim said Ladha told him another lawyer would take care of extending the travel visa. Even though he still had the woman's passport, Ebrahim said the other lawyer wouldn't necessarily have needed the woman's passport in hand to obtain a visa extension.

Ebrahim said the woman's passport sat in a file in his office for three or four months.

Ladha's daughter contacted him and informed him that the police were investigating Ladha and required the woman's passport, said Ebrahim, so he handed the passport over to the daughter.

"I had the passports because I thought it was an innocent thing," he said. "We were making an application on behalf of (the woman)."

The woman, who is now 26, previously testified that she came to Canada because Ladha told her she would be paid $200 a month to work in a hair salon.

She arrived in August 2008, but she said she never ended up in the job she had been promised and instead was forced into a life of unpaid domestic servitude.

The police became involved the following year when the woman went to a shelter without money

Ladha was charged in May 2011. She has pleaded not guilty.