04/17/2013 07:54 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Teen Prostitution Trial Hears About Use Of Social Media


A high-tech crime expert with the Ottawa police told a court that three teenaged girls accused of operating a prostitution ring were extremely active on social media.

Det. Mike Villeneuve testified Wednesday about evidence found on social media accounts believed to be operated by the accused.

Villeneuve said he had never seen the Instagram account found by CBC News that may be linked to one of the teens.

The Instagram photo-sharing account uses the same pseudonym and similar photos as Facebook and Twitter accounts that the Crown has alleged belonged to one of the accused.

The three girls, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old, face 74 charges including human trafficking, forcible confinement and procuring for prostitution. They were arrested in June. A fourth teen girl faces similar charges involving one incident, but her trial will be held at a later date.

Police allege the girls used social media to befriend and lure nine girls, aged 13 to 17, to a home at a housing complex in southeast Ottawa.

None of the accused or the nine victims can be named due to provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Cellphones seized

In his testimony, Villeneuve said it appears the accused made an effort to cover up what they were doing on their cellphones.

Villeneuve told the court about information he recovered from four cellphones seized from the home of one of the accused.

He said he found a cache of texts and unsent emails, including one that read: "I have a girl for you." Dozens of photos were also found, some of which Villeneuve described as child pornography. He also testified that he couldn't get information from two password-protected phones.

Heavy social media use

The court also heard details about just how deep the accused teens were into social media. One of the two 16-year-olds had written more than 16,000 entries on Twitter and thousands more status updates on her Facebook page.

The Crown alleged some of the the postings written in street slang are evidence of the teen's prostitution-related activities. The defence argued the street lingo was being misinterpreted.

Villeneuve said police couldn't recover much from the cellphone of the second 16-year-old charged.

The detective said her phone was wiped clean, but acknowledged the phone may never have been used.

Last week, the Crown said it had subpoenaed the girl's mother to testify that her daughter called her from jail and asked her to destroy the SIM card from the phone.

Pseudonyms written on wall

On Tuesday, Ottawa police Det. Carolyn Botting, the trial's first witness, testified the social media pseudonyms used by the 17-year-old girl was written on cabinet doors in her bedroom.

Names of the two other accused were also written on the bedroom walls, Botting told the court.

Nicholas St. Pierre, the lawyer for the girl, argued there was no proof his client wrote the pseudonym or other names. During cross-examination, Botting agreed there were different writing styles on the walls and furniture of the bedroom.

Botting also admitted she didn't know if St. Pierre's client wrote the names, as police never obtained a handwriting sample from her.

In court, Crown prosecutor Fara Rupert said that deprived the Crown of "a potentially meaningful body of evidence."

The trial continues tomorrow and is expected to last a few weeks.

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