Nova Scotia

Mother who shared videos of her sexually abusing children faces sentencing

Sentencing is underway for a 40-year-old Bedford, N.S., woman who sexually abused her own children and shared video of it with an American man.

Warning: This story contains graphic and disturbing content

The 40-year-old Bedford, N.S., woman's sentencing hearing went ahead in Halifax provincial court on Monday. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Sentencing is underway for a 40-year-old Bedford, N.S., woman who sexually abused two of her own children, used hidden cameras to collect video of a third child and shared the video with an American man.

The woman had initially faced 15 charges but pleaded guilty to eight including sexual assault, child pornography and corrupting a child. The American man is now serving a 26-year prison sentence.

Police in Nova Scotia were initially alerted to the activity by officers with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who had learned of child pornography being shared through the video-sharing service Dropbox, according to an agreed statement of facts presented Monday in Halifax provincial court.

U.S. authorities traced the Nova Scotia woman through a comment she made on the social media account of an American man who was the subject of an investigation.

The Americans contacted Nova Scotia's Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit, which investigates cases of child pornography and exploitation, according to the statement of facts.

Members of the unit supplied a Nova Scotia driver's licence photo to the FBI, which said the image matched that of a woman abusing a child in video retrieved from Dropbox.

The ICE unit obtained a search warrant for the woman's Bedford home where they seized electronic devices, including cameras and cellphones. They also recovered 23 hours of video of abuse, spanning the period from September 2016 to March of last year.

Images in case are sealed

The woman has four children in all. They are no longer in her care and her identity is being withheld to protect them.

The Crown has gone to extraordinary lengths to shield the public from the disturbing and graphic evidence that has been compiled against the woman.

Judge Elizabeth Buckle granted a sealing order to ensure the images being used in the sentencing hearing are not accessible. Most of the evidence is being introduced in the form of thumbnail images extracted from the videos that police seized. The thumbnails are contained in photo albums that are not visible to people in the public gallery.

Late in the day Monday, the Crown started to play short snippets of videos to bolster their sentencing arguments. Just before they were to start playing, the woman started sobbing and asked for a break.

When she returned, her lawyer told the court the woman did not want to watch the videos. The monitor at the defence table was turned off. All other monitors were angled so that they were only visible to the judge, lawyers and witnesses.

RCMP Cpl. Laura Seeley, the lead investigator on the case, told the court that in her six years with the ICE unit she was involved in more than 100 investigations. Only about 10 percent involved what she described as "hands-on" offending such as this case.

Seeley said these types of investigations are very difficult because of constantly changing technology, with offenders using virtual private networks, encryption and the dark net to conceal their activities.

"We will never be able to identify the majority of the victims that we're finding," Seeley said.

Help from International Police

She said the work involves looking for breadcrumbs — looking past the offence in the centre of the image to try to pick up clues on where the abuse might be happening. She said bedspreads, fast-food wrappers and patterns on clothing are all used to try to decipher where the offence might have taken place.

Seeley said they can also compare images they recover with a vast database compiled by the international police agency Interpol.

Seeley testified that in this case, the Nova Scotia woman corresponded with her American partner through Skype.

In one video, Seeley said the woman is fondling her eight-year-old daughter while asking the American man — who was observing the abuse live online — whether it excited him. The girl was asleep at the time.

Mother had camera disguised as alarm clock

In other instances, the court was told, the woman would tell her daughter the touching was necessary for medical reasons. When police interviewed the girl, she told them her mother touches her "no no," but she didn't want to talk about it because it was a secret between her and her mother.

On one video snippet played in court Monday, the girl can be heard saying "I trust you because you're my mum."

The agreed statement of facts, read in court by Crown prosecutor Peter Dostal, said the woman had a camera disguised as an alarm clock in the bathroom of her home.

Some of the videos described in court show the daughter and an even younger son naked in the bathtub.The hidden camera also recorded people taking showers and using the toilet. Seeley said police also recovered video of the woman abusing her son while he slept.

The Crown is asking for a sentence of 10 years. The defence is seeking seven.

The hearing resumes Tuesday. Buckle is expected to reserve her decision.

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About the Author

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca