Warning: This article contains details of sexual assault, rape and child sex abuse material. If you are at risk of sexual violence or may have experienced sexual violence, tell someone you trust. You can also call the Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis 24-hour crisis line at 519-836-5710 or 1-800-265-7233, or the Ontario Provincial Police at 1-888-310-1122.
GUELPH – For the first time in her life, Kelsey White-Sjolin doesn’t lie awake at night wondering if the man who sexually abused her as a child will find his way back into her life.
Fifteen years after Steven Bobbie Brook started grooming and sexually abusing White-Sjolin, the daughter of his wife’s friend, the Erin resident was sentenced to seven years in prison in Guelph court on Jan. 20.
“When it was all said and done … I just sat there like in an adrenaline rush. I was just vibrating for a solid hour,” White-Sjolin told the Advertiser by phone on Saturday.
“The whole thing was just so emotional.”
Brook, a 62-year-old balding man with greying hair and light facial stubble on a flushed face, appeared late for his sentencing before Guelph court on Friday.
His wife and their teenage son, who accompanied him into the small courtroom, sat in the first row on the right side of the room.
Brook wore blue jeans, a light jacket with “air energy” embroidered on the front, and glasses hooked at the neck of a black T-shirt.
As Judge Craig Sigurdson, appearing virtually, read off the charges against him — sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, making sexually explicit material available to a child, and making and possessing child pornography — Brook spent his final moments outside a prison cell seated with his arms at his side, chewing gum intermittently.
At times Brook’s representative counsel Joseph Pellizzari had to prompt him to respond to the judge’s questions during the proceedings.
‘My childhood was taken by you’
Brook pleaded guilty on Nov. 30, 2021 to six of 22 total charges stemming from sexual abuse between 2007 and 2013 and reported by White-Sjolin in the summer of 2020 at the Rockwood OPP detachment.
Having recently moved to Nova Scotia with her partner Mitchell in February of the same year, White-Sjolin recalled sitting on a bedroom floor.
“I was just crying and I had my laptop in front of me and I was ready to book a ticket home … and there was just something in the back of my mind like, ‘you can’t let him win,’” she said.
Turning to Mitchell, she disclosed what she had never told anyone before.
“I just broke down; I opened up to him,” she said.
White-Sjolin flew to Ontario in July that year to report years of abuse she was subjected to at the hands of a man she thought of and trusted as an uncle and father figure.
“I didn’t want anyone else in that position at all,” she said.
According to an agreed statement of facts, put forward in a joint submission by the defence and crown as part of a plea bargain, White-Sjolin’s mother and Brook’s wife carpooled to the factory where they worked.
The two families became close, spending holidays together.
White-Sjolin was just 11 years old in the summer of 2007 when she began helping Brook fix cars at his residence and shop in Hillsburgh.
Over the next seven years, she would be subjected to abuse the judge described on Friday as “abhorrent,” “horrific,” “despicable,” and “completely devastating.”
Brook sexually abused White-Sjolin on a weekly basis.
He raped her; gave her drugs and alcohol; forced her to watch child pornography that included bestiality; video-recorded his sexual abuses against her on four occasions, including at a Belwood cottage; and told her she would die by suicide — all while going to lengths to conceal what he was doing from his wife.
Ten days after White-Sjolin attended the Rockwood station, police arrested Brook and raided a shed and workshop at his residence, finding 868 printed images of child sex abuse as well as video footage, which was analyzed by the OPP’s Child Sexual Exploitation Unit.
Police interviewed Brook the following day, on July 22, 2020, when he denied his offences until confronted with the evidence.
And even then, it wasn’t a fulsome confession.
It was the dogged police work of the lead investigator working the case and the presence of White-Sjolin’s DNA all those years later that validated her story and eventually brought about Brook’s guilty pleas and the crown-defence submission seeking a seven-year sentence.
‘My story is finally heard’
“Today, as I sit before you, I am a 26-year-old woman, a victim of child sex abuse and child pornography,” White-Sjolin said last October in a Guelph courtroom, reading aloud to the court from her victim impact statement.
Moments before, at White-Sjolin’s request, a publication ban was lifted by the court, permitting the publishing of her name.
She said Brook became “the father that I never had” before twisting her world into a “living nightmare.”
“A world where a monster was able to control me and exploit me in ways that are completely incomprehensible.”
Brook groomed White-Sjolin early on, before forcing her into his world of depravity and evil.
He also manipulated White-Sjolin emotionally and psychologically, convincing her that she entered into a “third world” when she was with him — a place of lawlessness where morals and right and wrong did not exist — separate from the “first world.”
Over time, she separated and compartmentalized Brook’s abuse into this “third world.”
Today, sleep doesn’t come easy, her mind races, and flashbacks are common, she said.
“When I am finally able to put my head down on the pillow and sleep, the night terrors will overcome me,” she told the court.
“When I wake up, I realize that the dreams I have are not even close to how terrible and twisted my reality is.”
Looking in the mirror, she sees her 11-year-old self, “so desperately hurt,” staring back.
“That person looking back is not the person you see here sitting today,” she added.
Speaking with a raised voice, her tone emboldened and confident, White-Sjolin then addressed Brook directly: “My childhood was taken by you.
“Today is the day the first world comes into ruling … a world where my story is finally heard.”
‘Despicable acts on a child’
On Friday, Judge Sigurdson spoke to the mitigating and aggravating factors he considered for the seven year sentence, which he called “fit and appropriate.”
Seen as an acceptance of responsibility and expression of remorse, Sigurdson said, Brook’s admission of guilt prevented retraumatization of White-Sjolin through a trial, and its taxpayer expense.
He also considered Brook’s age, that he has “no related criminal record,” and his cooperation with Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist at the Manasa Clinic, who determined Brook was remorseful, took responsibility for his actions, and has a low risk of reoffending.
The judge noted Brook had been in therapy with a social worker for 43 sessions, completed 46 sessions in a maintenance group for men charged with sexual offences for a total of 92 hours, and participated in 60 hours of group therapy.
Sigurdson considered four aggravating factors: Brook’s abuse of trust and authority, the number of discrete incidents over an extended time, the aggressive nature of the offences, and the effects of the abuse on White-Sjolin.
“Mr. Brook took complete advantage of their relationship to sexually assault [White-Sjolin],” Sigurdson said.
He added the abuse occurred “again and again at a time when she was just so young and vulnerable.
“She was only 11 years old when the grooming started and the crimes persisted well into her teenage years.”
Continuing, he said, “Kelsey lost her most formative years to this abuse” and added, “the abuse that Kelsey endured at Mr. Brook’s hands was nothing short of horrific.”
“These were despicable acts on a child,” he said, characterizing comments made by Brook to White-Sjolin as “abhorrent” and “nothing short of violence.”
The judge thanked White-Sjolin for her powerful impact statement, repeating the details of what she included.
“Her childhood, teenage years, and adulthood have been destroyed,” Siguardson remarked.
In his final comments, Siguardson said the sentence must serve primarily to deter and condemn.
“I find that … seven years imprisonment is necessary to adequately reflect the gravity of these offences and the extreme harm that Mr. Brook has caused you Kelsey, over an extended period of time,” Siguardson said.
Attending virtually from behind a computer screen in Nova Scotia, White-Sjolin could be seen on large TV screens in the courtroom wiping tears from her eyes.
‘A slap on the wrist’
In addition to the sentence, Brook cannot own firearms and weapons, cannot communicate with White-Sjolin, cannot be around her in the future, must submit his DNA, cannot be in contact with persons under 16 years of age in certain situations, and must be on a sex offender registry for life.
A forfeiture order was also issued for a variety of evidence seized by police, including photo equipment used to produce child sex abuse material.
“Thank you, your honour, for everything, I really appreciate it,” White-Sjolin said, her partner and a coonhound named Kuno sitting nearby.
Putting on his jacket, Brook turned to his wife and son, telling them in a deep, gruff voice not to worry and to take care of each other.
Brook will first go to the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton before being placed at a federal prison. He will be eligible for parole after a third of his sentence, in April 2025.
In a phone call with the Advertiser, crown attorney Tom Meehan referred to White-Sjolin as an “admirable,” “strong,” and “courageous” woman.
Meehan agreed with the length of the sentence handed down, which he said had been a long time coming.
Though only six of the 22 charges were pursued by the crown, Meehan said they are representative of all of the crimes agreed to in the statement of facts.
“The lead investigator spent a lot of time and worked really hard” on the case, he said.
White-Sjolin agreed with the sentiment, saying the female detective (who attended Brook’s sentencing on Friday) stuck with the case from beginning to end and went to bat for her.
“There was just this instant connection with her, like this trust, like she was listening to me, she was believing me,” White-Sjolin said.
“She was absolutely amazing.”
Prison time will never account for the childhood and youth taken by Brook, and the sentence is “hard to accept,” White-Sjolin said.
“It feels like a slap on the wrist … I do wish it would have been longer.”
‘A long road’
The sentencing took less than an hour, but White-Sjolin found it “overwhelming” and “a lot to take in.”
“I was expecting that I was going to be a lot stronger, thinking that I had been so ready because it’s been so many years since I had initially talked about it,” she said.
“I feel like it’s still going take some time to sink in.”
Although the court may be finished with Brook, White-Sjolin is left to take responsibility for his actions.
Ultimately, it is she who must figure out how to handle the shards left behind, and who must put in the hard work to rebuild and learn who she is through intensive therapy.
“It’s going to be a long road,” she admitted.
“I’m really just trying to stay within the moment and not worry about, ‘well what happens when he applies for parole,’” she said.
“He’s gone. I’m safe.”
White-Sjolin and Mitchell recently purchased their first home, complete with a few acres and six laying hens, and hope to start their own family.
“That’s a big part for me … because I feel like Steve took my childhood away from me, so I want to be able to give a childhood that I feel like I deserved to my own child,” she said.
However, White-Sjolin has been diagnosed with endometriosis, which complicates fertility.
The condition has been linked to child sexual abuse in a study led by epidemiologist Dr. Holly Harris of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
White-Sjolin is now spending her time getting lost in books from the likes of Heather Morris, Lisa Jewell and James Patterson, and she’s working on one of her own — about her story.
She wants other women to know about her journey, and to know they too can speak out.
By the time she was 16, White-Sjolin said she knew what was happening to her was wrong.
“But I couldn’t get out of it,” she said.
In the years after the sexual abuse stopped, she was tortured with the thought that Brook would post video footage of her abuse online, but she wasn’t yet ready to tell anyone — nor does White-Sjolin believe women should feel they must.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe me, I didn’t think anybody would even listen to me, so I just didn’t bother,” she said.
But White-Sjolin was determined not to be a statistic or a victim — she despises the label.
“I needed to do this for me, and I needed to do this in case somebody else is being hurt after me,” she said.
Kelsey White-Sjolin is no longer just a number. She is known and she is named.
And her story is finally being told.