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Hong Kong man convicted of human trafficking in Canada

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
June 28, 2013 -- Updated 0843 GMT (1643 HKT)
Franco Orr Yiu-kwan brought his Filipino maid from Hong Kong when his family moved to Vancouver.
Franco Orr Yiu-kwan brought his Filipino maid from Hong Kong when his family moved to Vancouver.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong man convicted of human trafficking in landmark case in Vancouver
  • Franco Orr Yiu-kwan charged over Filipino maid he brought from Hong Kong
  • Court was told how the maid worked 16 hours a day for 21 months without a holiday
  • The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $1 million fine

(CNN) -- A Hong Kong man who brought a Filipino maid with his family when they moved to Vancouver -- but then made her work 16 hours a day for 21 months and allowed her one phone-call a month -- has been convicted of human trafficking in a landmark verdict.

In the first conviction for human trafficking in Canada, a British Columbia Supreme Court found 50-year-old father of three, Franco Orr Yiu-kwan, guilty of illegally employing a foreign national and immigration breaches.

His partner, Nicole Huen Oi-ling, was acquitted of the charges.

"My clients are in shock frankly," defense lawyer Nicholas Preovolos, told CNN affiliate CBC News. "They're stunned. It's an odd verdict, in that the jury apparently believed a number of allegations that Ms. Sarmiento made against Mr. Orr, but didn't believe the allegations she made against Ms. Huen."

Leticia Sarmiento, 40, told the court she was brought to Canada in 2008 with promises that the couple would help her get permanent resident status within two years and help bring her three children to Vancouver from the Philippines, CBC News reported.

When she arrived in Vancouver, however, she says she was required to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with no days off and no statutory holidays. She said that after a temporary visitors' visa was acquired in Hong Kong, the couple withheld her passport from her.

My clients are in shock frankly
Nicholas Preovolos

In Canada, she claimed, they restricted her movements and prevented her from talking to anyone. Things came to a head in June 2010 when Sarmiento called the police after getting into a confrontation with Huen.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that she told the court that while she had a good relationship with her employers in Hong Kong, "things had changed dramatically in Canada." She said apart from caring for the couple's three children, she was required to do cooking and cleaning duties that another domestic helper had performed in Hong Kong.

Preovolos argued that Sarmiento was lying under oath, and was motivated by the damages that could ensue from a civil lawsuit that has yet to be heard in a B.C. Supreme Court.

He argued that Sarmiento had begged the couple to take them with her when they moved to Canada following a business failure in Hong Kong and had refused to leave when her six-month tourist visa expired even though Orr had purchased a return ticket to the Philippines for her.

He told the court that in 2010 the couple had bought her another ticket to return home to the Philippines and it was only then that Sarmiento, desperate to stay in Canada, had called police.

Sarmiento agreed she planned to apply for permanent residency in Canada. A defense witness also testified that Sarmiento had provided her passport when she unsuccessfully tried to open a Canadian bank account, undermining her testimony that the couple had confiscated her passport.

Orr remains free on bail, pending sentencing on July 10.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $1 million fine.

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