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Ottawa man at centre of human trafficking case to learn fate today

Juteah Downey manipulated vulnerable women into handing over all their earnings from sex work, a judge found. He’ll be sentenced later today.

Juteah Downey manipulated vulnerable women into handing over sex work earnings, court found.

A woman sits on a bed, silhouetted by light coming from an open window.

WARNING: This article contains details of abuse

He gave them names like Gigi, Queen and Trinity Lust. They called him Lord Downey or Daddy, and they sometimes referred to themselves as his “sister wives.”

They met him when they were at their most vulnerable and he took full advantage, convincing them to hand over nearly every penny they earned in Ottawa’s sex trade by promising to help them achieve their dreams through the “empire” he told them he was building.

While they sometimes earned him thousands of dollars a day, he denied them such basic necessities as groceries and tampons, and demanded they ask his permission to attend medical appointments.

Control can be both physical and psychological. – Justice Narissa Somji

In the end, the four women who testified against Juteah Downey during his trial, which stretched from May 2021 to October 2022, were left with very little but their regret.

In February, Ontario Superior Court Justice Narissa Somji found Downey guilty of human trafficking and gaining a material benefit from it, procuring, advertising and benefiting from sexual services, and assault — a dozen charges in all. He will be sentenced on Thursday afternoon.

In arriving at her decision, Somji considered whether the women, whose identities are protected by a publication ban, had a viable option to escape Downey’s grip.

“Control can be both physical and psychological,” she noted in her lengthy judgment, adding that each of the women was “economically or emotionally vulnerable or both” when they entered Downey’s orbit.

As one of the women testified, “We’re all broken in some way.”

Convinced to become a ‘100 percenter’

All of the women who testified were, for one reason or another, in a tenuous financial situation when they first met Downey.

One was struggling to provide stability for her child and dreamed of opening a salon. Another had recently had a bad experience with a different escort agency. A third woman had just had her car taken and her licence suspended, and needed money to get back home to Alberta.

The youngest of the four, identified only as P.C., was just 19 when she arrived in Canada from Kenya. Her plan was to get an education, find a job and start sending money back home, but she soon found herself in Halifax struggling to find work and surviving on one meal a day.

Desperate, P.C. answered an ad on Craigslist from an agency called Canada Bookings that promised she could earn $1,000 a day.

She arrived in Ottawa with $5 in her pocket and was met by the man she’d come to know over the phone as Preston, who drove her to a downtown hotel. A short time later, P.C. was meeting her first client.

Preston, whom she’d later learn was really Juteah Downey, soon convinced P.C. to become a “100 percenter,” meaning she’d hand over all her earnings in exchange for food, accommodation and a promising future with the company that would allow her to fulfil her ambitions.

P.C. testified she earned between $500 and $1,000 on a slow day and as much as $5,000 on a good one. While she did manage to complete a few classes, Downey failed to deliver on a promise to pay her tuition so she quit school.

By January 2019, P.C. was managing a spa Downey had opened on Somerset Street W., but the court heard evidence the business was little more than a thinly veiled brothel.

P.C. was later arrested and spent a year in immigration detention, but criminal charges against her were stayed.

‘Sister wives’ lived together

Downey would regularly post ads for the women on Craigslist, Backpage and other classified sites, and notify them when they had a client.

Generally, the women were expected to be available for work 24/7, even when they were sick, and had to notify him the moment they were finished so he’d know they were available for another call.

(Downey claimed to have a dispatcher named Jamie working for him, but none of the women ever met her, and there was convincing evidence that Jamie was actually Downey using a different phone to send text messages.)

The sign outside the Ottawa Courthouse on Elgin Street.

Downey had simultaneous sexual relationships with most of his 100 percenters, a situation that sometimes caused tension at the rented homes where the women lived and worked.

While Somji found that “loyalty to Preston also meant having sex with him, without protection, when he wanted it,” testimony also revealed some of the women thought they loved him, and thought he cared for them in return.

“All of the girls testified that the accused had a different relationship with them behind closed doors. He made each of them feel special,” Somji wrote.

The women also described violent incidents including a fight at the spa during which Downey threw wine glasses at P.C., injuring her eye.

In another incident, a woman identified as M.M. testified Downey punched her in the jaw while driving.

The same woman said Downey once smeared a chicken burger on her face and pulled her hair because she’d asked him for some of her own marijuana.

‘Stockholm syndrome’

The four witnesses, who ranged in age from 19 to 26 when they met Downey, stayed with him for about one month to about 15 months between January 2018 and April 2019, when he was arrested in the lounge of a Marriott hotel on the Vanier Parkway.

M.M. was arrested at the same time in a room upstairs, where she’d gone to meet a client who turned out to be an Ottawa police officer.

When she looks back, she now sees manipulation, mental and emotional control, and grooming. – Justice Narissa Somji

The court heard that on at least two earlier occasions when police called to conduct wellness checks, the women told them everything was fine. In one instance, some of the women admonished their housemate for opening the door to the officers.

In her decision, Somji noted one of the women, S.T., believes she was experiencing Stockholm syndrome while she was with Downey, describing the phenomenon where captives develop feelings of empathy or even affection for their captors.

“When she looks back, she now sees manipulation, mental and emotional control, and grooming,” Somji wrote.

Somji rejected the defence counsel’s claim that the women acted voluntarily and were therefore never exploited.

“Exploitation is not to be determined simply by the choices made by the complainants, including the choice to work as escorts,” she wrote.

Downey’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.


After spending more than a decade covering Ottawa city hall for CBC, Alistair Steele is now a feature writer and digital copy editor at cbc.ca/ottawa.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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