Leticia Sarmiento died June 5 after a long battle with cancer. (Facebook photo, Darla Tomeldan)
Updated:June 8, 2018, 12:23 PM
Updated: June 7, 2013, 9 AM
A woman of strength
By Ted Alcuitas
The woman who won the first human trafficking case in Canada died yesterday (June 5) of brain cancer at a hospice in Vancouver where she had been confined for the last several months.
Leticia Sarmiento, 41, ‘Letty’ to friends, was the caregiver who was trafficked by her employer from Hong Kong and brought to Vancouver.
Darla Tomeldan, who broke news of her death in her Facebook Page today has this message:
“Cecilia and I are grateful for all the good times and precious moments that you spent with us. We will always remember your strength, wisdom and sense of humour. We are thankful that we were able to spend the last two nights and your final hours with you. We love you and you will always be forever in our hearts. Rest in peace, dear sweet friend.”
Tomeldan, now an immigration consultant, was a former legal advocate for West Coast Domestic Workers Association. The West Coast helped Sarmiento in her civil case.
In a month-long trial by jury in Vancouver in 2013, Sarmiento’s employer, Franco Orr, was found guilty of human trafficking- the first conviction in Canada for trafficking under the Canada Immigration Act. He was sentenced to 18-months in jail.
Sarmiento speaks to reporters after her win.
Orr successfully appealed in 2015 and won a new trial in which he was found guilty of lesser charge of employing a foreign national without authorization. He was sentenced to three-months.
Sarmiento testified that she was brought to Vancouver on the promise that she would be assisted in obtaining an immigration visa. She was made to work overtime with no pay and her passport held by the employers.
The trial became a media circus with reporters trying to chase Sarmiento for interviews. The case also was front page news for days.
Sarmiento was helped throughout her ordeal by a Vancouver women’s shelter. Other Filipino organizations like Migrante, B.C. supported her as well as the West Coast Domestic Worker’s Association.
Sarmiento had a long journey as a caregiver, working first in the Middle East and then in Hongkong where she had an aunt, also a caregiver. At the trial, she testified that she has not seen her children for years – a typical situation with Filipina caregivers.
She had two daughters and a son.One daughter and the son have since joined her in Canada.
After she was granted a visa she worked as a cleaner and became active with migrant’s groups lending her experience to help other caregivers.
“This victory is not only for me but also for the many of our kababayans who suffer as overseas workers,” she told me after winning her case.
A few years ago, she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. After her operation, she returned to the Philippines to visit her mother and remaining family to “bid goodbye”, she told Philippine Canadian news.com when we visited her two months ago.
After the trial, we lost contact with her but one day, I got a text in my cell phone from her.
That’s when I knew she was gravely ill. I visited her at the hospice with my wife whom she never met.
She told me she had my number in her cell phone and decided to text me.
Although partly blinded in one eye, she was able to talk and recognized me immediately when I came into her room.
Her partner, Taufiq, was with her and has been during her illness.
That was the last time I saw her.