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Human traffickers' challenge of 'cruel and unusual punishment' goes to court today

Two men who pleaded guilty to trafficking teenagers in southwestern Ontario but say their prison sentences amount to "cruel and unusual punishment" will go before a judge today.

Minas Abara and Nicholas Kulafofski say their four-year prison sentences are cruel and unusual punishment

Courthouse in London, Ont. (Andrew Lupton)

Two men who pleaded guilty to trafficking teenagers in southwestern Ontario but say their four-year prison sentences amount to "cruel and unusual punishment" will go before a judge today. 

Minas Abara, 20, and Nicholas Kulafofski, 19, both from Kitchener, Ont., pleaded guilty to human trafficking and profiting from the sale of sexual services in June. They'd been involved in selling the sexual services of two girls, ages 14 and 17, in hotel rooms in Windsor, Ont. and London, Ont. in June 2017. 

Abara and Kulafofski's lawyers are arguing the mandatory minimum sentence set out in the Criminal Code of Canada violates the men's right to be free of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, a right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

The Crown disagrees and will argue that the four-year mandatory minimum sentence doesn't go far enough. 

Both sides will present their arguments to a judge in a London courtroom on Tuesday. 

"Human trafficking is a predatory, dehumanizing and parasitic crime. Simply put, it is a form of slavery," Assistant Crown Attorney Bianca DiBiase writes in her submission to the court. 

"'Pimps use sexual services as an endlessly available commodity to be bought and sold in the market place. This particular human trafficking involved the sale of two young girls, who were 14 and 17-years-old, respectively, at the time of the offences. This type of reprehensible behaviour warrants a significant penitentiary sentence to meet the objectives of denunciation and deterrence." 

DiBiase is asking for a five-year sentence for Kulafofski and a seven- to eight-year sentence for Abara. 

Sentence may cause 'trauma,' lawyer argues

Kulafofski's lawyer, Frances Brennan, suggests the judge impose a sentence of 15 to 18 months in jail and two years probation for her client. 

Abara's lawyer, Chris Uwagboe, said the penitentiary term of four years "would have an irreparable effect" on his client. 

"The loss of freedom, and separation from family and society at such a young age would be a trauma that (Abara) may never recover from," Uwagboe wrote. 

Abara recently became a father but strict conditions prevent him from earning a living and contributing to his household, his lawyer wrote. Kulafofski is a first-time offender, his lawyer added. 

Mandatory minimum sentences have been part of the Canadian criminal code for decades for crimes such as murder, but many more were added under the Conservative government from 2005 to 2016. 

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought in mandatory minimum sentences as part of his tough-on-crime agenda, saying at the time there are certain crimes which must always require a prison sentence.  

Canadian judges have previously struck down the mandatory minimum penalty for human trafficking but the sentence remains on the books. 

"Both Mr. Abara and Mr. Kulafofski exercised a significant degree of control over (the victims') activities," DiBiase wrote in her submission to the court. 

"Both girls were taken from their hometown to work in different cities. The accused controlled what cities the victims worked in and had complete control over the victims' work environment. The accused decided the work schedule, what sexual acts (the victims) would perform and the price for each sexual service."

"Both girls relied on the accused for transportation, money, and food. The girls were not permitted to leave the motel room, and were reprimanded when they did so on one occasion." 

Both accused kept the majority of the money earned by the victims. 

A judge will hear arguments and sentencing submissions on Tuesday as well as victim impact statements before a decision is made. 

About the Author

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.