Leticia Sarmiento addresses the congregation at Sunnyside United Church Saturday.

Church champions victim of ‘very typical’ human-trafficking case

South Surrey's Sunnyside United Church hosted nanny Leticia Sarmiento Saturday, days after her former employer Franco Orr was sentenced.

The nanny at the centre of a ground-breaking human-trafficking case in Vancouver shared some of what she experienced during a program last weekend at Sunnyside United Church in South Surrey.

Rev. Stuart Lyster said Leticia Sarmiento’s attendance at the ‘The Other is My Neighbour’ event drew about 30 people to the 24 Avenue church Saturday afternoon. She had confirmed Wednesday – one day after her former employer was sentenced to 18 months in jail for fraud, unauthorized employment of a foreign national and misrepresentation – that she would be there.

“We’re trying to become more relevant to the migrant community that is in South Surrey, who are working here and need support,” Lyster said of the reason for Saturday’s program, which centred on the topic of human migration. “The church is involved in trying to get the people like Leticia being seen as people, not as economic units.”

According to court documents, Sarmiento was born in the Philippines, and came to Canada in September 2008 with Franco Yiu Kwan Orr and his family. He had employed her as a domestic worker in Hong Kong for a year prior and told Sarmiento that if she came to Canada with the family, she would work eight hours a day strictly as a nanny and be paid as required by Canadian law. He also promised that once she had been in Canada for two years, he would help her become a permanent resident, the documents state.

But in his reasons for sentence, Justice Richard Goepel found Sarmiento “was misled as to her working conditions, salary and her opportunity to stay permanently in Canada.”

Her job at Orr’s Canadian home included cooking and cleaning; she was paid less than what she was entitled to under B.C. law; and, Orr provided false information in support of Sarmiento’s Temporary Resident Visa application.

Leticia Sarmiento speaks outside courtLyster – who was among church members who offered Sarmiento support through the court process – described what happened to Sarmiento prior to her calling police on her employer in June 2010 as “very typical.”

“What was atypical was this is the first time anywhere in the world that an employer – like a garden-variety employer, just a homeowner – has been convicted and sentenced for human trafficking,” Lyster said.

“Turns out, she has rights. This is the first time when the courts have recognized it should not be the person being criminalized, it should be the employer, because they hold all the cards.”

Sarmiento also told attendees at the church about her previous experiences working overseas, which included jobs in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Her work for Orr in Hong Kong was “according to contract,” Lyster said, noting 4,800 people leave the Philippines daily on such contracts and “75 per cent of the time it’s a good thing.”

Lyster described Sarmiento as “still shell-shocked” from her experience in Canada and the media attention it has generated.

Representatives from Migrante BC – a community-based organization committed to the protection and promotion of the rights of Filipino immigrants and migrant workers – attended the Sunnyside United gathering.

And Lyster is taking his human-migration presentation to the First United Church in Summerland this weekend.

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