Court hears victim impact statements in teenage human trafficking challenge

The court heard Tuesday from one teenage girl and the father of another girl, who had both been trafficked for sex in hotel rooms in London and Windsor.

A final decision on sentencing has been put over until Dec. 20

Two men have pleaded guilty to trafficking teenage girls in hotel rooms in London and Windsor. The men were involved with transporting the girls, posting ads online and corresponding with johns. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

A 14-year-old girl who was trafficked in hotel rooms in London and Windsor says she hates herself, feels depressed every day and is unable to go to school because of her shame, according to a victim impact statement presented in court Tuesday by a crown attorney.

"I cannot handle the smell of male cologne because it causes me to remember what happened," the girl wrote.

"My body is sick and it will never heal."

A second victim impact statement, read by the father of a 17-year-old girl who was trafficked by the same men, said his whole family has been impacted by the crime. He added that he no longer trusts or thinks the best of people, and has installed cameras and lights in his home for extra security.

"It's hard to put a child into the world where there's so much disregard for the female gender, and you can't protect her," he said.

The names of both girls are protected by a publication ban.

Their traffickers, Minas Abara, 20, and Nicholas Kulafofski, 19, both from Kitchener, Ont., pleaded guilty in June to human trafficking and profiting from the sale of sexual services.

The pair appeared in a London courtroom Tuesday along with their respective defence lawyers, who argued that 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. This right is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

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

Abara's lawyer, Christopher Uwagboe, is seeking two to three years.

But Assistant Crown Attorney Bianca DiBiase argued Tuesday that even the four-year mandatory minimum sentences don't go far enough. The crown is seeking five years for Kulafofski, and seven to eight years for Abara.

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

"This type of reprehensible behaviour warrants a significant penitentiary sentence to meet the objectives of denunciation and deterrence."

A third co-accused, 19-year-old Paywand Sohrabzadeh, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison for human trafficking, as well as making child pornography and profiting from the sale of sexual services. His lawyer is not challenging the sentence.

'Grossly disproportionate,' say defence lawyers

'I think four years at that point in your life is a huge chunk of time, most of us have accomplished great strides,' said defence lawyer Frances Brennan of the impact a mandatory four-year minimum sentence would have on her client. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Both Brennan and Uwagboe pointed to their clients' youth, as well as what they call, a commitment to self-improvement, in making the case for lighter sentences. 

"He's a young kid," said Uwagboe of his client, Minas Abara, who now has a young son himself. 

"In this particular set of circumstances you have young individuals who are very close in age to the complainants in this case, taking them to hotels, benefiting from the conduct of these complainants. [My client's] conduct certainly is worthy of jail, but the sentence range being offered by the crown is just far too high for the actual conduct in this particular case."

Defence lawyer Chris Uwagboe says the sentence sought by the crown would be 'grossly disproportionate' to his conduct. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Brennan said she doesn't believe setting aside the mandatory minimum sentence in this case will mean that the courts will take human trafficking any less seriously in the future.

"I think the success in this particular case means that a fit and fair sentence will be imposed in a particular case," she said. 

The court heard that both men have the support of their families and girlfriends. They each read statements in which they apologized to the victims.

Men exerted 'high degree of control,' crown says

DiBiase told the court that the men exerted a high degree of control over the girls. 

She added that "working" conditions in the hotel rooms were inherently dangerous, and that the girls were left alone with their clients. Occasionally, the johns became angry when one of the girls insisted on condom use, a situation that DiBiase said could have easily turned ugly. 

"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," she wrote in her submission.

Both accused also kept the majority of the money earned by the victims, the court heard. 

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

The final decision in this case will be read by Justice Kevin McHugh on Dec. 20 in London.