A Vancouver couple is on trial for allegedly bringing a Filipina servant from Hong Kong to Canada illegally and forcing her to work in domestic servitude for several years.
For most of her adult life Leticia Sarmiento has looked after other peoples' children in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Hong Kong. But she never thought her dream job in Canada would become a nightmare.
In a landmark case in B.C., her employers — Franco Orr and his wife Nicole Huen — are charged with human trafficking under the immigration act. The couple has pleaded not guilty, could face a maximum fine of $1 million, life in prison or both if convicted.
The Filipino nanny openly sobbed while telling her story to a B.C. Supreme Court jury on Thursday, how she was tricked into coming to B.C. with the young family on the promise she'd work for two years, then become a permanent resident.
Sarmiento, who has three children of her own in the Philippines, alleges she was forced to work two years straight with no days off, no overtime pay and no access to her passport.
The couple's lawyer Nicholas Preovolus says they have been receiving hostile emails and telephone calls since they were charged last year.
"My clients are under enormous stress right now. This has been hanging around their necks like an albatross for the past two years," said Preovolus.
Orr's employer recently told him he won't be called to work until after the trial.
Nannies in Canada remain vulnerable
Naomi Krueger, the manager of Deborah's Gate Safe House, said the case illustrates how nannies can be exploited even in Canada.
"Nannies need to be treated with dignity and respect as well, and people who come to Canada from outside have the same access to the same resources as we do as Canadians, and need to be treated with that kind of respect and care," said Krueger.
"She's one of the most courageous women I know. She's somebody who has a lot of internal strength. She has survived a significant amount of exploitation."
The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.