A Halifax-area woman has been sentenced to four years in prison for helping lure a 16-year-old girl into prostitution in Halifax, Moncton and Toronto.
Renee Allison Webber, 43, appeared in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Thursday, where Justice Christa Brothers described the “insidious underworld” of exploitation and commodification that Webber brought a teenager into for her own sexual and financial gratification.
In September, the mother of four was found guilty of five charges related to pimping: trafficking a person under the age of 18, receiving material benefit from that trafficking, sexual exploitation, advertising sexual services, and procuring a person under 18 to provide sexual services for consideration.
Webber had also previously pleaded guilty to one charge of assault.
She had no previous criminal record, and an “unremarkable” upbringing that did not include a history of abuse or mental illness, said Brothers. But she was most certainly culpable, the judge added, noting Webber’s lack of remorse and responsibility for a crime she likened to “slavery.”
The trafficking took place between October and December of 2015, in partnership with Webber’s co-accused, Kyle Leslie Pellow. During that time, Crown lawyers told the court, the victim moved into Webber’s Halifax-area home, where she was lured into providing sexual services.
Pellow pleaded guilty last June to trafficking a person under 18, advertising sexual services and breaching a court order. He received a six-year prison sentence, but the judge deducted just over three years for time served.
While the Crown sought a six-year sentence for Webber as well — one year longer than the existing mandatory five-year minimum for trafficking a minor — Brothers struck down the mandatory minimum as unconstitutional.
She gave Webber a four-year sentence, considering that it was the woman’s first offence, she did not consistently benefit financially from the sexual exploitation, and for the most part, was non-violent in her interactions with the victim.
The judge said she also considered the 12 additional factors in her evaluation, including the sophistication of the trafficking operation, the age and vulnerability of the girl, the duration of the exploitation, and the steps taken to avoid detection.
The victim’s mother, who cannot be identified in order to protect her daughter, said she was disappointed with the sentencing.
“I understand that she has a clear criminal record, but that doesn’t change the fact of what she did to my daughter,” she told reporters outside the courtroom.
“She lives in the community and is a mother herself, I wanted that message to really hit home.”
Crown attorneys, the judge, and the mother commended the young girl — a clear “survivor” — for her courage and tenacity in coming forward and testifying repeatedly in court, face-to-face with her abusers.
Miia Suokonautio, executive director of the YWCA Halifax, said her organization is providing support services to the family, and others in their situation. Human trafficking is a bigger problem in Nova Scotia than most people realize, she told reporters.
“The fact of the matter is that very few people report it and very few people come to trial like we saw today, which is part of the reason why the courage of the complainant, in this case, is particularly remarkable and something that we honour and respect, and are very privileged to be a part of the support network in this community.”
— with files from The Canadian Press