A Gatineau couple accused of holding three teenaged girls captive as sex slaves now face a new charge of human trafficking, a recent addition to the Criminal Code that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Twenty-eight-year-old Laura Emerson now faces a total of 16 charges for her involvement in an alleged prostitution ring after the Crown updated its case Tuesday.

"They reorganized essentially the list of charges against my client, apparently there had been some duplication of charges in the original information and they added on some more charges," said Jean Bourget, Emerson's lawyer.

Teens allegedly held against their will

Emerson was charged last week with 13 offences including procuring teenaged girls for the purposes of illicit sexual intercourse and prostitution, forcible confinement and assault.

Her boyfriend, 33-year-old Gordon Kingsbury, also faces charges of sexual assault and breach of probation.

The charges come after three 17-year-old girls were picked up near homeless shelters in Ottawa and allegedly fed drugs, beaten, sexually assaulted and held against their will in a Gatineau apartment for one year.

Police learned about the case after one of the girls managed to escape and sought help from a passerby two weeks ago.

Fighting the human trafficking charge

Of the charges laid against the couple, Bourget says the human trafficking charge, which was added to the Criminal Code less than three years ago, could prove to be the most challenging to fight in court.

"It's somewhat of - as things go in this area - a new provision of the Criminal Code so it will have to wind its way through the judicial system for a while for us to get a really good handle on it," he said.

According to the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, there has never been a successful conviction in a local human trafficking case in Canada.

"There have been prosecutions involving bringing people from other countries but this applies to people from this country and we've never seen it before, and I'll be surprised if we see it frequently in the future," Mark Ertel told CTV Ottawa.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Natalie Johnson