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Phone statements discredit nanny’s word, couple’s lawyer tells court

Live-in caregiver Leticia Sarmiento arrives at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on May 30, 2013.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

A Filipino nanny who says she was kept in domestic servitude for nearly two years was free to call home whenever she wanted, the lawyer for a couple accused of human trafficking has told their trial.

Nicholas Preovolos, the lawyer for Franco Orr and Nicole Huen, told a jury during his cross examination of Leticia Sarmiento in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday that telephone statements from the couple's home showed many calls to one number in the Philippines.

Ms. Sarmiento, 40, had said she was permitted to make only one phone call a month during her 21 months working for the couple in B.C.

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Mr. Preovolos counted "well over 100 calls" to the one phone number in the Philippines during that time; however, Ms. Sarmiento said she did not recognize the number.

"I'm suggesting every one of these calls was made by you," Mr. Preovolos said. "I would suggest to you you were free to call home whenever you wished."

Through a translator, Ms. Sarmiento replied: "I do not agree with you."

The lawyer was granted permission to go through Ms. Sarmiento's cellphone contacts, which failed to turn up the number. Ms. Sarmiento insisted she called home only once a month, usually to the eldest of her three children.

Also on Thursday, Mr. Preovolos asked Ms. Sarmiento if the couple had ever treated her kindly when she was with the family in B.C. Ms. Sarmiento said she could not remember any such instances.

When Mr. Preovolos presented a photograph of her with two of the couple's children and what appeared to be a birthday cake bearing her name, Ms. Sarmiento said it was not from her birthday and she could not explain the photo.

"So you would just pose in front of a birthday cake with your name on it when it's not your birthday?" Mr. Preovolos responded, incredulous. He suggested there were several photos in which Ms. Sarmiento seemed happy and part of the family.

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"There was no time in which I was happy," she said. "It was full of sadness and lots of regret."

The nanny's claims came to light on June 13, 2010, after an argument and physical altercation at the couple's Vancouver home. Police came, and Ms. Sarmiento left with them. Immigration officials and police then learned Mr. Orr had brought the nanny to Canada on a six-month visitor's visa that had long expired.

Ms. Sarmiento told police she had worked for the couple in Hong Kong without problems for about a year. She claims she was tricked into moving to Canada with the couple in September, 2008, on the promise she would become a permanent resident after two years and the couple would help her bring her family, including her three children, from the Philippines.

However, Ms. Sarmiento said she was forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week in B.C., taking care of three young children and doing all the housework. For this she was initially paid $500 a month and later $700 a month. She alleged the couple kept her passport and would not let her out of the home.

After the June 13, 2010, incident she was taken to a women's shelter, as she had nowhere else to stay. On Thursday, Mr. Preovolos pointed out to the court that after June 11, 2010, the phone statements showed no more calls to the number in the Philippines.

Mr. Orr and Ms. Huen have pleaded not guilty. The trial, which started on May 29, is expected to last three weeks.

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