A man who pleaded guilty to luring underage girls into prostitution was sentenced to 14 years in prison and will receive a lifetime ban from using the internet.
Michael William Bannon was accused of pimping out nine victims — some as young as 14 — and marketing their sexual services over the web.
The court heard how the 35-year-old used social media to lure girls and encouraged them to use drugs and alcohol, with one of the victims recently passing away from a drug overdose.
Diane Sowden, the executive director of the Coquitlam-based Children of the Street Society, an advocacy group for the prevention of child exploitation, called the sentencing "bittersweet."
She told reporters outside of Vancouver Supreme Court Wednesday morning that she would have liked a longer sentence, noting that after time served is factored in, Bannon will only spend 10 more years behind bars.
"I feel that a sentence of 14 years is in the balance of past history," she said. "But to serve just over 10 years doesn't seem like it meets the impact it had on victims."
Still, Sowden welcomed Bannon's guilty plea, noting that it spared his victims the trauma of having to testify at trial. She said she was also happy that the court imposed a lifetime internet ban, noting computers were Bannon's tool for luring victims.
"He also has a ban against firearms," she said, "but the weapon that he used was the internet, so of course take that weapon away."
Bannon, who has been in custody since July 2015, wore a red prison outfit and white shoes when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gregory Bowden pronounced the sentence. The accused, who had a ponytail and beard, stared at the floor for most of the hearing and said he did not wish to speak when the judge asked if he would like to make a statement.
The court heard that Bannon communicated with clients and made arrangements for meetings while taking 50% of the proceeds, which were often paid in cash or drugs.
During their investigation, police found hundreds of messages between Bannon and clients, and in at least one instance, said he posed as the father of a victim to school authorities. There were also numerous advertisements on the internet that investigators said Bannon created marketing the victims' services.
Crown counsel Geordie Proulx said he believed a 14-year sentence would serve to denunciate the behaviour and deter other perpetrators from engaging in similar activity.
"Men of like mind that think they can pray on vulnerable young women will know what happens to them if they're caught and prosecuted," Proulx said.
As part of his sentence, Bannon will have to register as a sex offender and provide a DNA sample to the court. He will also be prohibited from communicating with any of the victims involved in his case or anyone under the age of 16 unless approved by the court.
Proulx credited police for their investigation and told reporters the sentencing shows the courts are taking the issue of child exploitation seriously.
"It's a new world out there," he said. "It's not like the old days where young girls and young women plied the streets. It's all through the internet — a volume-based business. The opportunity to earn money is maximized and the opportunity to victimize girls is maximized."
Sowden, who is also a Coquitlam school trustee, said parents need to be proactive and educate their children about the dangers of child luring and exploitation.
While it may be difficult to keep up with the latest social media trends, she said parents need to know the issues and the technology. They also need to be non-judgmental, she added, and make their children comfortable talking to them about the risks.
"It is not a one-time conversation," she said. "It is ongoing."
She added that people like Bannon are con artists who know how to connect with young girls.
"To a young person, they want to be cool and they want to be adults," she said. "He used that to manipulate them. He promised them things that were too good to be true."
• For more information about the Children of the Street Society go to www.childrenofthestreet.com.