VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – British Columbia’s attempt to seize the $3.1 million home of a West Vancouver woman who is charged with human trafficking has raised alarm from a civil liberties group. If convicted, Mumtaz Ladha would be the first person successfully prosecuted in British Columbia for human trafficking.
Ladha and two or her family members are accused of holding a Tanzanian woman as a virtual slave in their home.
The provincial government sued Mumtaz, Natasha and Zahra Ladha in B.C. Supreme Court. It claims they brought a 21-year-old woman, identified only as A.H., to Canada from Tanzania in 2008, promising her a work visa and a job in a hair salon, for $200 per month.
But the government says the Ladhas put the woman to work in their home against her will, working from 18 to 22 hours a day every day. She had to cook, clean, do yard work, wash their cars, and their guess’ cars, do the Ladhas’ hair, give them massages and wash their underwear by hand.
“During this time, A.H. was kept at the property and was deprived of food, was not allowed to contact her family in Africa, and never received the $200 in wages promised to her on a monthly basis. A.H. also stated that the Ladhas kept her passport locked away where she was unable to access it,” according to the complaint.
They made her work outdoors, ill-clothed in freezing weather: “A.H. was required to shovel out the Ladha’s vehicles in only a light cotton dress when it got stuck in the snow a kilometer from the property.”
After nearly a year, a friend helped A.H. escape to a Salvation Army shelter, who called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The RCMP’s Border Integrity Program’s Human Trafficking Team investigated with West Vancouver police.
Ladha was arrested at Vancouver airport on July 19 as she returned to Canada. She has been charged with human trafficking and human smuggling.
The Ladha family has not yet filed a statement of defense, but Vancouver media reported that the family claims the police have got it all wrong and that A.H. was never forced to work as a slave in Canada.
The government’s attempt to seize the house has drawn objections from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
BCCLA policy director Micheal Vonn told the Vancouver Sun that the forfeiture applications appear to go beyond the purpose of civil forfeiture legislation. Vonn said that when the B.C. government introduced the law in 2006 its intent was to pursue the assets of gangsters and criminals.
Vonn said the Crown can seek criminal forfeiture of a home once a person is convicted, but questioned the attempt to seize a home before conviction.
Applications for forfeiture, as in this case, are made in civil court, where forfeiture proceedings require a lower standard of proof – the balance of probabilities – rather than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.