• Thu
  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 1:56pm

Soft-hearted boss or cruel abuser? Hong Kong emigrant jailed for human trafficking

Hong Kong couple thought they were doing their maid a favour by taking her to Canada, but now one of them has been jailed for human trafficking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:44pm

As far as Franco Orr Yiu-kwan and his wife could see, their only crime against their Filipino maid was being "too soft-hearted".

But a Canadian jury begged to differ, convicting Orr, 50, of human trafficking in a landmark case. On Tuesday, the former Hong Kong businessman was sentenced to 18 months' jail for human trafficking.

It is Canada's first successful trafficking prosecution under immigration law as opposed to previous cases brought under the criminal code, mainly involving sex slaves.

Orr had brought maid Leticia Sarmiento with his family when they moved to Canada in 2008, continuing to pay her under the terms of her SAR contract.

Prosecutors, who said her conditions amounted to slavery, hope that the precedent-setting sentence handed down in the British Columbia Supreme Court will deter other would-be traffickers. Orr, led from court in handcuffs, plans to appeal.

The court was told that Orr and his wife, Nicole Huen Oi-ling, 36, made Sarmiento work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for 21 months. But Orr claimed that the maid begged to be brought to Canada when the family moved to Vancouver in September 2008, and that she was allowed to come and go as she pleased.

"This is the first conviction in Canada for an offence of human trafficking under section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," said prosecutor Peter LaPrairie prior to sentencing. "So yes, it does create a precedent. Deterrence is always a consideration for would-be offenders."

Orr was also convicted of two labour and immigration offences, earning six-month sentences to be served concurrently. Huen was acquitted of all offences.

The couple, whose three children were cared for by Sarmiento, said they thought they were doing a good deed when they brought her to Canada. "The only thing we are guilty of is being too soft-hearted," Huen told reporters outside the court after her husband's conviction in June.

Their lawyer, Nicholas Preovolos, had asked for a conditional sentence, while prosecutors sought five to six years' jail.

Judge Richard Goepel told Orr on Tuesday that "individuals cannot be allowed to disregard the immigration laws of this country with impunity". However, he said that the crime was "at the lower end of the continuum" because the Crown did not prove that Sarmiento had been subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment.

Goepel said there was a "lack of significant aggravating factors", and that Orr's profit motive in underpaying Sarmiento was "relatively modest".

Sarmiento was initially paid C$500 a month, in line with the HK$3,470 minimum allowable wage for foreign maids in Hong Kong at that time, but well below British Columbia's general minimum hourly wage of C$10.25 (HK$76.75). The couple later gave her a 40 per cent pay rise, raising her salary to C$700, and Sarmiento continued to send money back to her family in the Philippines with whom she was in regular contact.

Outside court on Tuesday, Sarmiento tearfully told reporters that she rejected the judge's mild assessment of her work conditions. "I didn't see all my family for seven years. I feel great now because I know I have freedom here in this country," she said.

She plans to apply for permanent residency in Canada and hopes her family can join her.

Orr and Huen claimed that they tried repeatedly to get Sarmiento to leave Canada after her six-month tourist visa expired. They said they booked her flights out of the country, but she refused to go. They said she only called police in June 2010 as a last-ditch bid to stay in Canada.

Preovolos provided police and witness testimony that there were no locks on the family home that would have prevented anyone inside from leaving. The court also heard that Sarmiento was sometimes left alone, for example while the family went to watch a film.

LaPrairie said Sarmiento's movements within the community did not necessarily indicate a lack of coercion or victimisation. "We had an expert witness testify about the means of control that victims often face in situations like this," LaPrairie said. "The expert provided testimony concerning victimology and why persons in this type of situation are often not in a position to seek assistance even if they are out in public with their abusers."

Sarmiento's claim that the couple confiscated her passport was undermined by a bank employee who testified that the maid used her passport in a failed attempt to open a bank account.

Preovolos said Sarmiento had previously been fired as a maid in Hong Kong and was worried she would not find another job there. He said she was well aware that she was in Canada illegally all along, but LaPrairie rejected this.

"The evidence at trial was that Ms Sarmiento discovered the true state of her immigration status after being taken out of the home by the police and meeting with Canada Border Services Agency. The jury clearly accepted this evidence," LaPrairie said.


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This article is now closed to comments

Accentuates how Hong Kongers are addicted to maids. When in Rome (Canada) do as the Romans (Canadians). Most Canadians with three kids will not have maids...they will tough it out (just like my mom did). You have the perfect opportunists ingredients from both parties:
Greedy employer vs meal ticket seeking employee.
It is interesting how standard working conditions and pay for maids in Hong Kong are classified as slavery elsewhere... nothing new though I suppose!
both tried to take advantage of the situation, only the maid came out ahead.
Family tried to get cheap maid by not paying the Canadian salary and following immigration laws, the maid used this to get citizenship in Canada.
Family worse off with father in jail for 18 months. Very cruel and unjust Canadian ruling. Stick him with stiff fines and community service, this is a bogus and non-common sense ruling.
Send the maid back to Philippines. She should not automatically get right to live there as she was not sponsored by anyone. She is the real winner here.
Yingnam Fong
I have heard from a maid that should a maid want to get a job in Canada, they might spend up to HK$60,000 to achieve that. If they succeed, they will get a wage much higher than in Hong Kong but have to spend a portion of the earned money on many the daily subsistence. For them, it is worth trying as after their working for some years (3 years?), they can apply for a citizenship. If that is the case, Canada is much more generous than Hong Kong. The maids in Hong Kong can never get the citizenship under the existing HK immigration law. Going back to Orr's case, both the employer and the maid should have known something about the differences prevailing in the places, especially the maid (who has the most interest to know about her situation). The employer should also have known that they cannot hire a maid in Canada using the Hong Kong price. At any rate, the maid should be an illegal immigrant and should be subject to the prevailing law on such. But the employer has to pay a price for the stupid act. The employer might have under-estimated the seriousness of the offense and also he might never have thought of the betrayal of the maid at the time when he chose to settle the matter by sending her back home due to expiration of her visa. The mess is now being taken care of by the merry Canadian lawman who has the most interest to set up a hallmark case in the nation's doorstep.
OldPeak Toad
A scheming Filippina outsmarts a cheating Hong Konger. How upsetting!
Soft-hearted indeed. Now the maid gets to apply for permanent residency and the employer gets jailed. His family split up. The prosecutors celebrate because this being a landmark case, their names would be carved in the law reports. Opportunity came to the maid the moment the couple applied for immigrant status to Canada. The maid could have found another employer but I suppose living abroad was better then going back to her own country. I know not of Canadian Law but the Canadian Consulate should have denied the maid's entry, when or after the couple submitted their immigration application, yet did not do so. The maid was clever ... the employer was soft in the head.
Too many traps on hiring domestic helpers, especially for maids who have high education. That's why I never ever hire one, even I have two kids.
Don't be stupid to be so kind to Filipino maids. There are numerous cases in Hong Kong that they (Filipino maids) just look for opportunities to trap the employers and earn money or other opportunities.
this is a total joke, even paying her 500/month is great as she did not have to pay for lodging
let her go make the canadian minimum wage and get housing on her own
this is a total travesty, yes even that sneeky bank teller was in on it, conspiring against the poor down trodden maid
the maid should be behind bars
She should be sent back to her home province in the Philippines. A fate worse than Canadian jail...




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