Human-trafficking trial hears woman forced to work long hours for no pay

VANCOUVER - Had she known that she would become an unpaid domestic servant in Canada, she would never have come overseas, an African woman told a human trafficking trial on Tuesday.

The 26-year-old from Tanzania, who cannot be named under a publication ban, said she was forced to do everything from cleaning bathrooms and polishing floors, to serving meals and washing cars when she worked — without pay — for 60-year-old Mumtaz Ladha.

The wealthy West Vancouver woman in on trial accused of four human trafficking-related charges.

The witness told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon that she also cleaned dishes and windows in Ladha's $4-million home, tended to Ladha's plants, gave Ladha massages at night, and did the family's laundry — sometimes by hand, which eventually led to a skin condition.

The work would start once she woke up around 6 a.m., and she barely got to stop until midnight or 1 a.m., she said.

The work was in stark contrast to what the woman was promised when she agreed to come with Ladha from Tanzania to Canada in August 2008, she testified.

She said Ladha had offered her a job in a soon-to-be opened beauty salon that would pay her $200 a month.

"Would you have left Africa to come to Canada to work with Mumtaz if you had known the working conditions that you found yourself in here?" asked Crown counsel Peter LaPrairie.

"No," she said through an interpreter.

The trial already heard that Ladha, who owns property in Tanzania and Vancouver, applied for the woman to come to Canada with her because she had vertigo and needed help. She also told officials that the woman was her travelling companion and a caregiver.

But the woman denied being either of those things. At the time of the visa application, she was working at Ladha's Dar es Salaam salon rather than as a servant in her home, she told the court.

She also said Ladha was healthy and physically capable of doing her own housework.

Contrary to defence arguments that she was considered a member of the Ladha family, the woman told the court that Ladha never treated her like a daughter or a friend.

"If she treated me like her own kid, I wouldn't have done all the work in the house," she said. "If I was like a guest, I wouldn't have had to do anything because guests don't do anything in the house."

The woman said she had to dine separately from the family. When Ladha hosted parties, she would have to wear a uniform to greet guests and serve food, she said.

She also said Ladha refused to pay her wages. About two months after they arrived in Vancouver, she broached the subject with Ladha, who replied that it already cost her a lot of money to bring her over, she said.

"I just dropped the subject," she said. "I never asked about it again."

However, kindness was also shown to the woman at times. During a house party, she received $300 in tips from guests, and she sent the money back home, she said.

The woman was also asked to accompany the family to Whistler for a five-day trip, though the woman said she was brought there only to carry everyone's outdoor equipment and wasn't invited to ski with the family.

Roughly six months after the woman arrived in Canada, an application to have her visitor's visa extended was submitted.

The court has heard that the woman stayed working for Ladha for about a year before she fled to a women's shelter to get help.

Ladha has pleaded not guilty.