London

Judge rejects mandatory minimum sentence, gives human traffickers less time

A London, Ont. judge refused to impose the mandatory minimum four-year sentence on two men who forced teenagers to sell sexual services in hotel rooms, agreeing with defence lawyers that such a penalty would amount to "cruel and unusual punishment."

Two men pleaded guilty to forcing teens to sell sexual services southwestern Ontario hotel rooms

A lit up hotel hallway near Hwy. 401 during a vice probe, one tool police officers use to find possible victims of human trafficking. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

A London, Ont. judge refused to impose the mandatory minimum four-year sentence on two men who forced teenagers to sell sexual services in hotel rooms, instead agreeing with defence lawyers that such a penalty would amount to "cruel and unusual punishment." 

Nicholas Kulafofski and Minas Abara, both 20, had challenged the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum four-year sentence, saying it violated their Charter right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment or treatment. 

The pair from Kitchener, Ont. pleaded guilty to human trafficking and profiting from the sale of sexual services in June. They'd been selling the sexual services of two girls, aged 14 and 17, in hotel rooms in Windsor, Ont. and London, Ont. in June 2017. 

Justice Kevin McHugh told the court that although the "right-thinking Canadian" would not be outraged if both men went to prison for four years, the sentence was too excessive in the circumstances. 

Instead, Abara will go to prison for three years and Kulafofski for just over two years. They will both be on the sex offender registry for 20 years. 

Third co-accused got mandatory minimum

Abara was given more time because he exercised more control over the teens and put their pictures online. He was also involved in trafficking both teens, but Kulafofski only dealt with one of the teens.  

A third co-accused, who didn't challenge his mandatory minimum sentence, had also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison. 

The judge said Abara and Kulafofski were not as culpable as the third man, who was more the mastermind of the operation. 

"The takeaway message here is, that sentencing needs to be proportionate but if you engage in sexual exploitation of people, that's a serious offence," said Frances Brennan, Kulafofski's lawyer. 

Brennan argued that her client is a first-time offender who is remorseful. While his offences are serious, they do not warrant a four-year prison term, she said. 

Mandatory minimum sentences tie judges' hands and don't allow for individual circumstances of an offence to be taken into consideration, she added. 

"Our tradition of sentencing in Canada is very fact specific, specific to the facts of the case and the offender. Mandatory minimums remove from the judge any subtlety or nuance in terms of where to start," Brennan said. 

'A substantial amount of time'

The Crown was seeking the four-year sentences to be served consecutively, a "substantial amount of time" for a first-time, youthful offender, said Abara's lawyer, Chris Uwagboe. 

"There are some very serious, violent crimes that are sentenced here in court with ranges well below eight years, for people with long criminal records," he said. 

"A right thinking Canadian would want to see this conduct stopped. We all do. No one wants anyone to be trafficked. It's not something that is welcomed in our community. But that doesn't stop the conversation. In addressing whether a four-year sentence is appropriate, a right-thinking Canadian might think they want more than a four or five year sentence, but that's not how sentences are dealt with here in court," Uwagboe said. 

"There has to be reasonability, there has to be fairness, and sentences have to serve a purpose. We can't just set blanket numbers for that. We have to look at each circumstance." 

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