05/22/2016 03:19 EDT | Updated 05/22/2016 11:59 EDT

Jennilyn Morris, Edmonton Businesswoman, Jailed For Exploiting More Than 70 Foreign Workers In Landmark Case

An Edmonton woman was sentenced Friday to two and a half years in prison, and to pay back thousands in unpaid wages for exploiting more than 70 foreign workers.

Jennilyn Morris, 46, pleaded guilty to two labour trafficking charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in February, making her the first person to be charged under the act in the province.

Morris came to Canada herself as a live-in caregiver in 1998, according to a column in the Edmonton Journal, and went on to build two businesses, a restaurant, Smokey Joe’s Hickory Smoke House and Demot Cleaning Inc., which provided cleaning and kitchen staff to hotels.

In addition, Morris also lent her Demot staffers out to Webco Printing to operate printing presses and insert flyers into newspapers, according to the Edmonton Journal.

It was after a Canada Border Services Agency raid on Webco that Morris' worker exploitation was discovered, Global News reports.

"If you can stand, you can work."

Under her management, Morris had her employees work up to 14 to 16 hours a day for less than minimum wage at $9 per hour and $8 per hour if they worked overtime, meanwhile, she was paid up to $20 per hour for staff, according to an Edmonton Journal column by Paula Simmons.

One victim, single mother Teodora Bautista, was brought over to Edmonton from the Philippines, where she worked to support her five children back home.

"When [Bautista] questioned Morris about the hours, Morris responded by saying, 'If you can stand, you can work.'" according to court documents obtained by CBC News.

Morris also provided rental housing for her victims where up to five people shared one bed or slept on the floor. Some workers were charged $20 for a blanket.

"They felt like second-class citizens."

From the start of 2007 until summer 2010, Morris also brought three people from the Philippines to Canada, and misled both them, and the Canadian government about their work contracts, wages to be paid and overtime rates, according to Global News. She also made them cover the cost of their paperwork and airfare.

At least 68 of the workers she had on staff at both of her businesses were foreign nationals whom Morris employed illegally and exploited. They either had visitor visas, or work permits for other employers, according to court records from earlier this year.

These are the two offences for which Morris is being charged, according to the Edmonton Journal. Three of the original five charges were dropped.

Justice Ken Nielsen heard 28 victim impact statements this week and he noted their "shame, shock, confusion and lack of confidence," CBC News reports.

"They felt like second-class citizens," the CBC News quotes the judge saying. "They felt if they expressed their concerns, they'd have their work hours reduced or get sent back to the Philippines."

In addition to the two and a half year jail sentence, Morris will have to pay $22,000 in restitution to 13 of her victims.

Justice Nielsen said Morris did not appear to express remorse, and a clear message needed to be sent to deter others from this crime, Global reports.

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