A Halifax mother says she felt helpless last week as she watched a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judge grant bail to a woman convicted of forcing her teenage daughter into the sex trade.
“There’s just no justice,” the mother, who cannot be named, told The Chronicle Herald on Thursday.
“The system is falling apart. They’re not paying attention to the rights of victims at all.”
Renee Allison Webber, 44, of Halifax stood trial in front of a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge and jury last fall.
Webber was sentenced last January to four years in prison on charges of trafficking a person under the age of 18, receiving material benefits from human trafficking, advertising sexual services, sexual exploitation and common assault.
Last week, she applied for bail pending an appeal of her convictions, which is scheduled to be heard by the Appeal Court next April.
Justice David Farrar rejected the Crown’s argument that it would not be in the public interest to release Webber from the Nova Institution for Women in Truro pending the outcome of the appeal.
The judge released Webber on a $10,000 recognizance with one surety, her mother, and ordered her to remain in Nova Scotia, follow a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew at an apartment on Dawn Street in Halifax, and report to police by phone every Monday.
Webber is prohibited from having weapons and from possessing or using any devices capable of connecting to the internet, but she is allowed to use a computer for employment or education purposes.
The judge also ordered Webber not to have any contact with the victim, another young woman and a man named Kyle Leslie Pellow, who was convicted in the case as well.
There’s a publication ban on any information that would identify the victim, who was 16 when she met Webber and is now 20.
I don’t care if she’s a female. Don’t put those kinds of people around our most vulnerable people in society.
The judge’s decision left the young woman’s mother in tears. She said she had a “meltdown’ in the lobby after the hearing and took out her frustration on the Crown attorney.
One week later, she’s just as angry.
“I’m so livid that she gets to live out in the community where the crimes happened,” the woman said of Webber.
“I don’t care if she’s a female. Don’t put those kinds of people around our most vulnerable people in society. That whole area around Dawn Street is filled with young families … that are just getting by. There are people around there with addictions.
“If you’re a young girl and you’re struggling with your addictions, and you run into somebody like Renee, she’s going to sweet-talk you (with words like), ‘Hey, why don’t you make some money? That will feed your addiction.’
“My daughter was not the only victim. She’s just the only one who came forward.”
The crimes were committed over a period of four to six weeks in late 2015, primarily in the Halifax area but also during trips to Moncton, N.B., and Toronto.
The girl went to police after Webber struck her in the face in May 2016. Webber and Pellow were arrested shortly afterward at a residence on Main Avenue in Halifax.
Pellow, 30, pleaded guilty in Halifax provincial court in June 2018 to three charges: 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 as remand credit.
I want to know how much profit she made off my child.
“They took my daughter to Toronto and tried to sell her to another pimp,” the mother said. “That’s slave-trading, as far as I’m concerned.
“You let grown men pay to have sex with my daughter. … I want to know how much profit she made off my child.”
Webber is appealing the jury convictions. She claims the trial judge erred in law in denying a defence motion to call evidence regarding a sexual assault Pellow committed on the girl.
Webber says the judge also erred in allowing jurors to deliberate on the offence of sexual exploitation, which stemmed from an incident in Moncton, outside the jurisdiction of the Nova Scotia court. Her lawyer, Lee Seshagiri, says evidence regarding that allegation tainted the other charges as well.
The Crown is appealing the four-year sentence, saying the judge was wrong to rule that the Criminal Code’s five-year mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking a young person was unconstitutional in Webber’s circumstances. Prosecutors had requested a sentence of at least six years.
The Appeal Court will hear both sides’ appeals next April 8.
In Thursday’s interview, the mother was also critical of the limited assistance she said she and her daughter have received from police and the provincial Justice Department since May 2016.
“It’s a joke, as far as I’m concerned, in this province,” she said. “Everywhere I turn, no one seems to care.
“This province really needs to get it together. … All they do is want to put pressure on the girls to come forward and talk.”
The woman said her daughter did not return to “that horrible life,” is back in school and is “doing great.”
“Mind you, she’s looking over her shoulder now,” she said. “She just feels that the province has let her down.”