Raw emotion was on display at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Tuesday, as Amanda Todd’s family read victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing for the Dutch man convicted of harassing and extorting her before she took her own life.
Crown prosecutors are seeking 12 years in prison for the man convicted of harassing and extorting Amanda before her death a decade ago.
A 12-member jury found Aydin Coban, 44, guilty in August of extortion, harassment, communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence, and possession and distribution of child pornography in the high-profile trial.
Amanda’s father Norm Todd, who has avoided speaking publicly about the case in the past, was visibly overcome with emotion, his voice cracking as he read the first sentence of his statement.
“I can’t help but think Amanda doesn’t have the chance to confront her tormentor and explain how devastating it was to be preyed upon in terror day after day during a time when she should have been doing all of the things young teenage girls do worry-free, her tormentor filled her waking moments with fear, humiliation, anxiety, despair and desperation that should never be part of a young girl’s life,” he told the court.
“She couldn’t take it anymore and did the only thing that she thought she could do to escape her terror. It’s a heavy burden to think I couldn’t take that pain away for her.”
Amanda’s mother Carol read statements on behalf of herself, and her son, Amanda’s brother Christopher.
“I miss her more than words can explain — I miss being a big brother to her, I miss the times where we played jokes on mom, I will miss guiding her through her life, I will miss being an uncle to her children,” Christopher’s statement said.
“An event like this changes people irreversibly forever. It changes the course of life. I am not the person I was or the person I may have become.”
In her own statement, Carol began by quoting from the viral YouTube video her daughter posted just weeks before her death that helped her become a symbol for online harassment, adding that she hoped to be her daughter’s voice.
She described watching her daughter wilt from a young, vibrant girl with dreams of a career in singing to a shadow of her former self.
“I lost my daughter too early, unnecessarily, as a result of crimes related to exploitation, which resulted in the ongoing and persistent bullying and cyberbullying that she had to endure from her peers and others on the Internet — the behaviors of others made Amanda afraid to go out in public and instilled intense agoraphobia and anxiety,” she said.
“Simply, she was afraid to go out in fear of being recognized and ashamed from what had happened to her.”
Carol went on to describe how the loss of her daughter had damaged friendships, prevented her from working until last year and left her living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She also detailed how she has herself felt some of what her daughter experienced due to online trolling and victim blaming since becoming an advocate in her daughter’s name.
“There are ongoing flashbacks related to triggering sounds and memories. Sleep has not come easily in the last ten years since Amanda’s death by suicide. I often lay awake wondering why us? Why Amanda? And ultimately, what if this has become my horrible new normal?” she said.
“Our children are the most important resources for the future., we must learn how to keep them safer from those that could impact their lives negatively. There are far too many children, just like Amanda, who have been hurt emotionally and physically from the senseless actions of those hiding behind their screens. And as adults, we are responsible.”
Victim impact submissions wrapped with Crown playing Amanda’s YouTube video in full, in which she laid out the torment she had endured in her own words.
Crown seeks 12 years behind bars
Throughout Tuesday’s proceedings, Coban sat quietly in the prisoner’s box dressed in the dark blue collared shirt he wore for most, if not all of the trial. Amanda’s mother, father and older brother sat several rows behind their daughter’s tormenter, separated by two panes of glass.
Outside the court, Carol noted that the hearing came one day after both the 10-year anniversary of Amanda’s death and World Mental Health Day.
“We need to talk about it,” she said. “We need to make sure there’s justice for Amanda so that the wheels are rolling for other countries that they can stop these predators and offenders also.”
Coban was originally due to be sentenced in mid-September, but proceedings were delayed until Tuesday when a prosecutor caught COVID-19.
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In her submissions to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Martha Devlin, lead prosecutor Louise Kenworthy noted that Coban was “unrepentant” about his behaviour, and had shown no signs of rehabilitation in the eight years he has been in prison in the Netherlands on convictions for similar crimes.
“The offences he committed were morally repugnant, his conduct was calculated, callous, and had devastating consequences,” Kenworthy told the court.
“He has been in custody for many similar offences since January 2014 and has shown no interest in rehabilitation. The Crown’s submission is Mr. Coban is at high risk to reoffend and needs to be separated from society for a lengthy period of time to protect children.”
The Crown has argued that prison time for each count against Coban in the Todd case should be served separately. Coban is already serving an 11-year sentence in the Netherlands on similar charges, and the 12-year global sentence proposed by the Crown would be served after that sentence is complete.
However, how Dutch authorities would interpret and implement that sentence remains unclear.
Kenworthy walked the court again through what she has described as a “persistent campaign of sextortion” against Amanda between 2009 and 2012. Using 23 online accounts, some designed to intimidate and some designed to befriend the teen, Coban sent more than 700 messages on four online platforms to Amanda and people she knew, Kenworthy said.
She described how Coban had used a topless video clip of the teen to try and blackmail her into performing webcam sex “shows,” and on numerous occasions, followed through on the threat to send the pornographic material to Amanda’s friends, family and school community when she refused to comply.
Prosecutors also argued that hard drives seized from Coban’s cabin in the Netherlands contained a “treasure trove” of data, including deleted files with Amanda’s name, and evidence of chats with the teen.
The defence has yet to enter its sentencing submission.
Throughout the trial, Coban’s defence argued that while there was no doubt Amanda was a victim of crime, there was no evidence proving Coban was the online extortionist.
Coban was extradited to Canada in 2020 to face trial.
Before he was extradited, a Dutch court had sentenced him to almost 11 years in prison after a trial in Amsterdam in 2017, where he was accused of the online abuse of 34 girls and five gay men.
That information could not be reported during his Canadian trial due to a publication ban.
The Dutch court heard that Coban pretended to be a boy or girl and persuaded his victims to perform sexual acts in front of a web camera, then posted the images online or blackmailed them by threatening to do so.
He was convicted of fraud and Internet blackmail and given the maximum sentence for what Dutch legal authorities described as “the devastating consequences of his behaviour” on the lives of his victims.