EDMONTON – A 46-year-old mother of two has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars and ordered to pay back thousands in lost wages to foreign workers.
In February, Jennilyn Morris pleaded guilty to labour trafficking charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The charges were the first under the act to be laid in Alberta. Since her guilty plea, Morris had been living with her family and working at a golf course and was also employed as a taxi driver.
On Friday, May 20, she was taken into custody to serve her sentence.
Edmonton woman charged with human trafficking
Edmonton woman pleads guilty to illegally employing foreign nationals
From Jan. 1, 2007 to Aug. 30, 2010, Morris made job offers and brought three foreign workers from the Philippines to Edmonton to work for her cleaning company, Demot Cleaning Co. Inc.
Court heard Morris misled the workers and the government by refusing to pay the promised wages and overtime in the agreed contracts. Morris also charged workers for plane tickets and fees for recruitment paperwork.
Justice K.G. Nielsen tallied up the total to $44, 573. Morris was ordered to pay back about half of that in restitution, $22,000 to 13 individuals.
Court heard Morris also employed at least 68 other foreign nationals to work for Demot, as well as live-in caregivers to her children and as dishwashers at her restaurant Smokey Joe’s. Morris also hired foreign workers to staff local hotels, but they did not have the authorized permits. Those workers were discovered after the Canada Border Services Agency conducted a raid on Webco, a printing business in Leduc. Foreign workers had also been hired by Morris to insert flyers into newspapers.
READ MORE: Edmonton-area woman charged with human trafficking
In his sentencing decision, Justice Nielsen told the court the victims “felt like second class citizens.” Twenty-eight victim impact statements were provided to the court and Justice Nielsen said it was clear Morris’ activities were “ongoing, deliberate and manipulative.”
Not only did the workers lose out on wages to send back home to their families, Morris also charged $20 for a blanket in some of her rental homes. There were up to five people sharing a bed and sometimes sleeping on the floor.
Justice Nielsen said there was no expression of remorse by Morris and a clear message should be sent to deter others from this crime.
“They experienced stress, anxiety,” he said. “They lost their ability to trust people.”
READ MORE: Edmonton-area woman pleads guilty to illegally employing foreign nationals
Human trafficking and labour exploitation is often undetected because foreign workers may not know their rights, or have the support to come forward with complaints.
Danielle Monroe with ACT Alberta, Action Coalition on Human Trafficking, calls this case the tip of the iceberg. She said it was “ironic” Morris, a former foreign worker herself, would abuse her positions of trust.
“The taking away of the opportunity to provide and the lack of dignity, it was very difficult for us to watch the impact on the victims,” Monroe said.
Morris came to Canada from the Philippines in July 1998 under the live-in caregiver program. She became a permanent resident in 2001, then finally a Canadian citizen in 2008.
Justice Nielsen said if anyone should have appreciated the situation of these workers, it should have been Morris.
“She dictated where they would work, when they would work.”