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Jail sentence hailed as victory for domestic workers
The man convicted of keeping a Filipino nanny against her will at the family’s Richmond home in 2008 and 2009 has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Franco Yiu Kwan Orr was found guilty last June by a B.C. Supreme Court jury, which acquitted his wife Oi Ling Nicole Huen.
This week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice R.B.T. Goepel delivered the sentence, and said in his written ruling that he took into account Orr’s past good character and lack of a criminal record.
This week’s sentencing was hailed as a victory for the rights of domestic workers.
Ai Li Lim, staff lawyer and executive director of West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association, said Thursday afternoon that the message from the justice system is clear: “You will be punished if proven through a court of law that you have trafficked a person. You can’t do it in impunity.”
Added Lim: “Certainly it’s a vindication of the bravery of this caregiver to come and report and be able to tell her story publicly. And it is also a vindication of the criminal justice process in terms of starting to address labour trafficking issues.”
Lim said Canada’s management of the labour trafficking issue is in its relative infancy, but the court victory shows a lot of progress has been made.
The conviction and 18-month jail sentence says “the government will investigate and will take these reports and stories coming from migrant worker communities very seriously.”
Lim said the jail sentence sends the message that the government is saying “this type of exploitation and manipulation is a crime, and a serious crime. And the punishment for the crime will be commensurate with the gravity of the crime.”
Orr was convicted of organizing the coming into Canada of Leticia Sarmiento “by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use of threat of force or coercion” contrary to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Justice Goepel wrote: “While the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Sarmiento was subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment, she was nonetheless the victim of these offences. She came to Canada at the behest of the Orrs, She was misled as to her working conditions, salary and her opportunity to stay permanently in Canada. When she came to know that she was in the country illegally, because she had no friends or relations in Canada, she was socially isolated with limited available options to resolve her situation. It was only after she made her 911 call that she found the assistance she required.”
Sarmiento, a mother of three, left the Philippines in 2000 to work as a caregiver in order to support her children. She sent back to the Philippines almost all of the money she earned in her various positions.
After having worked in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, she obtained work in Hong Kong as a domestic worker in 2007.
She then was hired by the Orr family in Hong Kong to take care of their children and paid the equivalent of $500 per month plus room and board.
In late 2007 or early 2008 she was told the Orr family was moving to Canada and was invited to come with them. She would work eight hours per day and would be paid as required by Canadian law. Once she was in Canada for two years, Orr told her he would assist her in becoming a permanent resident of Canada.
The jury heard that while Sarmiento was told another domestic worker would be hired to do the house chores, this didn’t happen. And rather than being paid Canadian wages, her salary remained at $500 per month, which was increased to $700 per month in late 2009.
Though Orr intended to remain in Canada, he claimed to immigration officials that he was only going to be visiting for six months and that he would be bringing the family’s nanny with them.
Orr successfully applied for a six-month temporary resident visa on Sarmiento’s behalf. After that expired, he applied for an extension, which was denied, and she was asked to leave Canada immediately in June of 2009.
But Sarmiento remained employed by the Orrs through June 2010, leaving only after a quarrel with Orr’s wife, after which Sarmiento called 911 and the police attended and removed Sarmiento from the home.
While Sarmiento claimed she worked for 22 months under humiliating and degrading conditions, that her passport was kept from her, that she was only allowed to call home to the Philippines once per month, and that she was forced to work 16 hours per day, seven days per week, Justice Geopel found inconsistencies in her evidence based on other evidence and court testimony.
“Given the totality of the evidence and the frailty of Ms. Sarmiento’s recollections, I find that the Crown has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt the aggravating factors it alleges. I cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Sarmiento was treated a virtual slave.”
Orr was also convicted of employing a foreign national “in a capacity to which the foreign national was not authorized under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” and of misrepresenting or withholding material facts relating to a relevant matter that induced or could induce an error in the administration of the act.
The Crown had sought a sentence of between five and six years, while the defence sought a conditional sentence.