New trial ordered for N.S. woman convicted on human trafficking-related charges

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Renee Allison Webber, left, arrives at court in Halifax on Jan. 17, 2019. (Michael MacDonald/Canadian Press - image credit)
Renee Allison Webber, left, arrives at court in Halifax on Jan. 17, 2019. (Michael MacDonald/Canadian Press - image credit)

A Halifax-area woman found guilty on charges related to human trafficking has had her convictions overturned and a new trial ordered.

The decision for Renee Allison Webber was released Tuesday by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

A jury convicted Webber in September 2018 of advertising to provide sexual services, receiving a financial or material benefit, procuring a person under the age of 18, sexual exploitation and touching for a sexual purpose. She was sentenced to four years in prison.

Her then-boyfriend, Kyle Pellow, had been charged along with her. He pleaded guilty in a separate court appearance and received a six-year prison sentence.

Trial judge did not have jurisdiction

During Webber's trial, her lawyer was unsuccessful in getting a stay of charges related to alleged offences that had occurred in Moncton, N.B. The lawyer argued they were outside the jurisdiction of a Nova Scotia court.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal agreed, saying the trial judge was wrong to assume she had jurisdiction over the alleged offences.

The jury heard testimony at Webber's trial from the alleged victim, who told the court that Pellow and Webber drove her to Moncton on different occasions, rented a hotel room and advertised sexual services on the classified advertising website Backpages. The site was taken down in late 2018 by American authorities.

The appeal decision said there was no evidence to prove Webber was responsible for posting any of the ads that appeared on Backpages, and the jury should not have been told otherwise.

Girl should have been questioned

The appeal court's third ground for overturning Webber's convictions related to a defence request to question the girl about her relationship with Pellow. The defence was trying to prove that it was Pellow who exercised control over the girl during the alleged sex offences, not Webber.

The trial judge said questioning in that vein could serve to undermine the girl's credibility in the eyes of the jury.

The appeal court ruled narrow defence questions in this area should have been allowed.

The court has ordered a new trial on four charges against Webber for alleged offences committed in Nova Scotia. The court has stayed the charges relating to alleged offences in Moncton.

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