VANCOUVER - A West Vancouver woman is suing the B.C. and federal governments after being acquitted of human trafficking charges, saying her family has suffered for years under the spotlight of the serious accusations.
Mumtaz Ladha broke down Monday as she announced a lawsuit against the RCMP and B.C.'s director of civil forfeiture for alleged damages to her finances and her reputation resulting from what she described as a wrongful criminal prosecution.
"What we have been through, what my family has been through, financially, emotionally, in every aspect, … I wouldn't wish that to happen to any human being, to any Canadian, ever," she told a news conference.
In 2011, Ladha was accused of human trafficking and human smuggling after she brought a young Tanzanian woman to Canada to work in her multimillion-dollar home.
Ladha was acquitted of the charges in 2013."Because human trafficking is such a terrible crime it's also a terrible wrong for the RCMP to accuse a completely innocent person," said her lawyer, David Martin.
He alleged the RCMP were negligent and misleading in their investigation, adding that police lacked objectivity and either ignored or glossed over inconsistencies and "outright lies" in the complainant's testimony.
Ladha is seeking compensation for direct, out-of-pocket expenses, which Martin said total in the millions, as well as an award for defamation and punitive damages.
"They need to somehow absorb their duty of objectivity and independence that was so cast aside in this case," Martin said.
In 2011, RCMP accused Ladha of confiscating the complainant's passport and forcing her into domestic servitude and starvation.
Ladha was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in November 2013 after a B.C. Supreme Court judge concluded the allegations were improbable.
Martin said the director of the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office is named in the suit for relying on the RCMP investigation to file a "negligent and malicious claim" on the family's home, worth about $3 million at the time.
Ladha said she was forced to sell the house to pay her legal fees.
Martin also claimed that the human trafficking charges against Ladha may have been politically motivated. He pointed to leaked U.S. government documents that indicate the United States was considering downgrading Canada on its human trafficking performance scale.
Speaking for the RCMP in B.C., Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said police could not comment on the case because it is before the courts.
The B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office has come under fire over concerns that it has expanded beyond its original function to seize property involved with or bought through the proceeds of unlawful activity. No criminal charge or conviction is needed for a government forfeiture.
Ontario was the first province to create a civil forfeiture office. According to information on the Attorney General's website, the province collected about $38 million in property between 2003 and 2013.
By comparison, B.C. has seized an estimated $52 million in property since its civil forfeiture law came into effect in 2006.
B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said Monday that she continues to have confidence in the office.
"It has a very robust procedure," Anton said. "It makes sure it has a proper case before it moves forward."
She declined to comment on the specifics of Ladha's suit, saying that would be inappropriate because of the court action.