A young woman whose life in her native Tanzania was marked by poverty and hardship was so desperate to stay in Canada that she fabricated allegations she was tricked into leaving her home and forced into domestic servitude, a defence lawyer told a human-trafficking trial Thursday.
Mumtaz Ladha, 60, is accused of illegally bringing the woman, who can't be named, to Canada in August 2008. The Crown alleges Ladha forced the woman to work long hours as an unpaid housekeeper in her home in West Vancouver.
Defence lawyer Eric Gottardi said Ladha brought the woman to Canada for what was supposed to be a brief visit as a travel companion and to help in case Ladha fell ill. The woman had worked at a salon Ladha owned in Tanzania and previously worked as Ladha's housekeeper.
As the trip drew to an end in early 2009, said Gottardi, the woman asked Ladha for assistance to stay in Canada.
Ladha responded by connecting the woman with an immigration consultant to extend her visitor's visa an extra six months and asking her own lawyer to help prepare a work permit application while she attempted to find the woman a job, said Gottardi.
Those efforts failed, meaning the young woman would be forced to return to Africa when her travel visa expired in July 2009. At that point, the woman came up with a dramatic story of abuse to tell the police, Gottardi said. Her story became even more grim when the woman learned victims of human trafficking can obtain Canadian work permits.
"When the time came to finally return home, (the woman) balked," Gottardi told a B.C. Supreme Court judge as the defence presented final arguments.
"One can only imagine the appeal of a life in Canada must have been irresistible. It is that which motivated the complainant to make these allegations against our client."
The young woman grew up in a particularly poor area of Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. She is a single mother whose own parents had died.
Earlier in the trial, the woman testified Ladha lured her to Canada with the promise of a job at a salon, though the job never materialized. She also said she believed Ladha would fire her from her job in Tanzania if she refused.
Once here, the alleged victim said she was forced to work 18 or 19 hours a day. She claimed she was forced to wear a uniform, was forbidden from eating with the Ladha family, and couldn't even sit on the sofa.
Gottardi said the only evidence that supports the woman's allegations is her own testimony, which he said was riddled with inconsistencies, evasive answers and outright lies.
He noted several witnesses recalled visiting the Ladha house and seeing the woman eating with the family; laughing and smiling with Ladha; accompanying Ladha to birthday parties and other outings; and generally appearing to be a welcome member of the household. Those witnesses never saw the woman wear a uniform, Gottardi noted, and didn't see her as a housekeeper.
Ladha took the young woman on a trip to Whistler and regularly brought her along on shopping trips, said Gottardi. Text messages between the two suggested they had a "loving relationship," he said.
Gottardi also argued Ladha had no motive to perpetrate an elaborate ruse to fool immigration officials to bring the young woman to Canada. She was wealthy, with roughly $500,000 in one bank account alone, and had previously hired paid housekeepers.
"We're left with the question: Why would Mumtaz Ladha, a woman with significant means, do this?" said Gottardi.
The woman, who is now 26, left the Ladha home for a women's shelter in June 2009.
Ladha was charged in May, 2011.
She has pleaded not guilty to four charges under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act: human trafficking; employing a foreign national without authorization; misrepresenting facts to the High Commission of Canada in Tanzania; and misrepresenting facts to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.