VANCOUVER - Leticia Sarmiento was a modern-day slave, working 16 hours a day, seven days a week as a nanny for a wealthy family in British Columbia, says the Crown, urging a judge to hand down a sentence for her former employer that will deter others from trafficking vulnerable women.
Franco Yiu Kwan Orr was found guilty in June of human trafficking for bringing Sarmiento with his family to Canada, where she earned $500 a month to care for his three children.
"He kept her as a virtual slave in his home," Crown lawyer Peter La Prairie told the B.C. Supreme Court Judge Richard Goepel on Wednesday. "It was a crime of greed and it was a crime of control."
La Prairie asked Goepel to impose a prison sentence of five to six years.
In 2007, Sarmiento, 40, began working for the family in Hong Kong, where, she told the court, conditions were very different.
A mother of three herself, Sarmiento testified that she was told by the couple before coming to Canada that she would continue to have two days off a week and regular working hours. She said they told her she could become a permanent resident of the country after two years, and her children could join her here.
Orr brought Sarmiento to Canada in September 2008 on a visitor's visa that expired after six months.
Living in Metro Vancouver, she said she was not allowed to socialize with other people, worked seven days a week, had her passport taken away, and had to share a room with the couple's youngest daughter.
In June 2010, after 22 months, Sarmiento called 911 and police took her to a women's shelter.
In a victim impact statement read in court by La Prairie, Sarmiento said she wanted a better life but has now lost trust in people.
"I'm a good mother, a good daughter. I never do bad things. I help people and I expect the same back," La Prairie read aloud.
She said she believed her children would join her in Canada.
"I have not seen my children since 2007 when I left the Philippines and went to Hong Kong," the statement said. "In 2010 I stopped having income to send home, so my kids stopped going to school."
Her youngest daughter accused her of not being able to even recognize her in photos, she said, and the media attention from the case has caused her embarrassment and made it difficult to find another job.
"I feel judged," she said.
La Prairie said Orr used deception to get Sarmiento into the country, subjected her to degrading and humiliating conditions once here, and did so for his own profit — all aggravating factors for sentencing.
He cited a study on the trafficking of women for domestic servitude, and said they are among the most vulnerable in the world.
According to RCMP, there have been 45 convictions in Canada for human trafficking or related crimes, involving 69 people, but Orr's is the first conviction for human trafficking under the Immigration Act.
Orr was also found guilty of employing a foreign national illegally and misrepresenting the situation to immigration officials. His partner, Oi Ling Nicole Huen, was found not guilty by a jury.
Defence lawyer Nicholas Preovolos suggested a conditional sentence for Orr, 50, a father of three without a criminal record.
Preovolos said his client — who worked at one time as an immigration consultant, according to the Crown — maintains his innocence on the charge of human trafficking.
If the jury believed the conditions in the home were as deplorable for Sarmiento as she testified, they would have convicted Orr's spouse of human trafficking, as well, for being complicit in the exploitation, he said.
"Mrs. Sarmiento did have serious credibility problems," Preovolos told the court, pointing out discrepancies in her testimony about working hours, her access to a cellphone, whether her passport was taken away and whether she was locked in the house.
"To me, it looks like she embellished the evidence or outright perjured herself."
Preovolos said his client may have been paying Sarmiento Hong Kong wages in Canada, but "it is a very limited profit motive."
The maximum sentence for the human trafficking charge is life in prison.
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