A 28-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to a series of thefts in Barrie and Midland was the victim of a human-trafficking ring and had the option of stealing or “servicing men," her lawyer told a Barrie court.
“I want you to know I feel totally ashamed and embarrassed,” the woman told Justice Phil Brissette during a virtual hearing on Wednesday. “I was in a hard place.
“I just want to move forward and be with my son," she added. "I just want to be a mom again.”
Court heard that the woman was the victim of a human-trafficking operation and, just prior to her arrest, was raped in Sudbury, leaving her with injuries requiring surgery. She told the court that she learned on Monday that Sudbury police are laying a charge of aggravated sexual assault in the attack.
Her lawyer, Michael Hayworth, said she showed up in jail bruised and badly beaten and was treated for a weeping wound just above her ankle.
“Her pimp heated up the end of his cane and branded her,” he told the court.
The woman was sentenced to four months, which amounted to time served awaiting trial in connection with 21 charges related to theft, fraud and breach.
The Simcoe County crimes were part of an Ontario-wide spree resulting in about 250 charges in the Sudbury area, Hamilton, Toronto, Halton and Peel regions, as well as Barrie and Midland. She pleaded guilty to the Sudbury charges last week and is expected to soon deal with the remainder.
The local spree, which happened between Jan. 11 and Nov. 1, 2019, started in Midland when the woman used stolen credit or debit cards to make small purchases, including cash cards.
The process often began her walking into locker rooms or staff areas where she would take purses and jackets with car keys and wallets. She’d use the keys to find the car and search through it for valuables and once took the car. The cards were often used for various purchases and gift cards.
Court heard she entered staff rooms at Midland’s Georgian Bay General Hospital and Food Basics store and walked right into a Springwater Township home, entering through an open door to take a purse.
In Barrie, she went into locker rooms at north-end gyms, an indoor sports facility and the Allandale Recreation Centre looking for wallets, purses, cash, cards and keys.
In one situation, she was invited into a Barrie home under the auspices that she was waiting for a ride. The following day a female resident noticed her purse missing and found transactions had been made on her credit card.
Apart from the province-wide spree, court heard she had no previous record and that she had completed a series of programs while sitting in jail waiting for trial.
She also received support from a number of organizations including the Barrie Native Friendship Centre, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Sudbury Native Friendship Centre.
Crown attorney Sarah Sullivan called the thefts brazen and said the accused showed a disregard for other people’s property. The disruption of having a wallet, purse and cards missing combined with the infringement of an individual’s space and trust can have a lasting impact on victims, she said.
Walking into someone’s home and taking a purse, “that’s a major break of personal property and space,” she said.
“Her story is really quite extraordinary,” Hayworth told the court, adding the woman is Indigenous.
He said she was being trafficked and suffered “most horrific abuses” starting in 2018 and was told her family members would be in danger if she didn’t agree to demands.
After every time she was released from custody for the thefts she was picked up by her traffickers and put back to work.
And although she’s since managed to escape the grasp of the traffickers, she also had to escape addiction, he said, adding that she’ll need five years of rehabilitation.
When asked by the judge if she had been continuing with the rehab, the accused replied that she had and has gained 100 pounds. She also suffers from a number of mental-health issues.
Hayworth said she has family and community supports at home, where she’ll return to be with her son after she’s dealt with all the charges.
“I do think, your honour, [the woman] has been through an ordeal like no other,” Hayworth told the judge.