Days after her husband's landmark human trafficking conviction, an emotional Nicole Huen broke her silence to respond to what she says was a hurtful and inaccurate depiction of her family by prosecutors.
"The Crown has tried to make us look like a super rich, cold-hearted and nasty couple," she told a small group of media outside her lawyer's office on Friday. She spoke carefully in broken English and read from a prepared statement.
Her husband, Franco Orr, was convicted Wednesday of human trafficking, employing a foreign national illegally and misrepresenting facts that could induce an error. Ms. Huen was acquitted on charges of human trafficking and employing a foreign national illegally.
No one had heard from Ms. Huen prior, as she did not take the stand during the month-long trial.
In a five-minute statement, the mother of three said hers was an ordinary family that lived on modest means. After selling their property in Hong Kong, they still could not afford a down-payment for a condo in Vancouver, which is why the family moved in with her parents and brother.
"Nine people under the same roof, including the complainant in this case," she said. "We occupied 700 square feet of the house."
Nanny Leticia Sarmiento lied about what happened during her employment with the couple in Canada in an effort to become a permanent resident in Canada, Ms. Huen suggested.
"[Ms. Sarmiento] said that we never bathed any of the kids once by ourselves in two years, never fed one of them by ourselves in two years. Isn't that hard to believe? I suppose it is the only way that she could explain how she could work 16 hours a day in a space of 700 square feet."
During the trial, Mr. Orr told the court he had suffered a catastrophic business failure and had advised Ms. Sarmiento to seek work elsewhere, as he could not afford to pay her. In response, he alleged she pleaded to work out more of her contract, as she had previously been fired and a second termination would further tarnish her record. That is why the couple agreed to let her join them in Canada, Mr. Orr said.
Ms. Sarmiento had said she was tricked into coming to Canada on the promise she would become a permanent resident, be paid more and that the couple would help bring her family over from the Philippines. Instead, she said she was forced to work virtually non-stop, prohibited from leaving the home and allowed only one phone call home each month.
"We as Canadian citizens [should be protected] by the law, to have our citizen rights, our proper human rights," Ms. Huen said Friday. "At the same time, we should not let people abuse the system [and] find their way here by lying. I urge our immigration minister to look closely at this case."
Mr. Orr has lost his $12-an-hour job as a security guard and Ms. Huen has lost her clients as a realtor, the couple's lawyer, Nicholas Preovolos said. Her signs have been vandalized.
When asked how she would provide for their three young daughters financially, Ms. Huen burst into tears.
"I don't know yet … [at the moment] I just receive the childcare from government only. I really don't know."
A sentencing date has not yet been set.