Skip to main content

'Predators go where children go': 5 local people arrested, charged through Project Aquatic

Share

Ontario Provincial Police have arrested 64 people and laid 348 charges — all tied to internet child exploitation.

Four people from Windsor, one of whom is 16 years old, and one person from Chatham are now charged with offences including possessing, accessing and making available child pornography.

“The goal was clear: to identify victims and to apprehend individuals who make, access and distribute child sexual abuse material,” OPP Det. Staff Sgt. Tim Brown said in a news conference Wednesday in Toronto. “Our team also seized 607 digital devices.”

 

A reactive project

Brown is the head of the Provincial Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Strategy.

Starting Feb. 27, 2024, investigators from 27 law enforcement agencies in Ontario conducted what they call a “reactive project.”

“We are reacting to complaints from different electronic service providers,” Brown said. “The social media platforms have a duty to report certain things and that gets reported to us.”

Through 127 investigations, police were able to identify 34 victims of internet child exploitation and they were able to safeguard 30 others.

“Safeguarding is when we identify a child who is in a dangerous position where they could be offended against and we take them out or remove them from that situation,” Brown said, although he would not indicate the region where the victims were located.

“Predators go where children go,” Brown said. “Let today be a call to action. The fight against child exploitation requires more than just the efforts of law enforcement. It demands a societal pledge to safeguard our most vulnerable children.”

 

A growing problem

According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP), 77 per cent of youth between the ages of nine and 17 have a smartphone, which gives them quick access to the internet.

“We have observed growing networks of adults with a problematic sexual interest in children,” CCCP Associate Executive Director Signy Arnason said Wednesday. “These online communities share child sexual abuse material, encourage one another to share tactics that include how-to manuals, [and] they normalize the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.”

Arnason said criminals also obsess over victims, try to locate them and even stalk the youth “well into adulthood.”

Arnason also said the amount of internet child exploitation created by artificial intelligence is “exploding” in two ways.

One, criminals save an image or video and turn it into abusive material to redistribute, and every day CCCP receives reports from schools across Canada of youth using nude AI generators.

“And [they] think it’s funny to produce an AI-generated image of a kid in school,” said Arnason.

 

A call to action

Not only are smartphones common for youth, police said they are also equipped with 128 times more data than when the Provincial ICE Strategy started in 2006.

It means criminals can store incredible amounts of videos and still images on a single phone and redistribute the material easily, thus re-victimizing the youth contained in them.

As a result police said they can’t tackle the problem on their own.

“No investigation will ever be as successful as the prevention of victimization in the first place,” OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said Wednesday. “Harm to our youth can be mitigated through awareness, education, supervision, and maintaining ongoing, open and trusting dialogue.”

Brown reminded parents to be aware of what your kids are up to on their phones.

“One of the golden rules with engaging online is if you do not know that person 100 per cent, then you do not know who that person is. They could be hiding behind any name, any age, any picture,” Brown said.

If you see suspicious or offensive content online you are encouraged to file a complaint on the Cyber Tip website, Canada’s national tip line for reporting internet child exploitation. 

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

BREAKING

BREAKING Baseball legend Willie Mays has died at 93

Willie Mays, the electrifying 'Say Hey Kid' whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball's greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93.

Strange monolith pops up in Nevada desert

Jutting out of the rocks in a remote mountain range near Las Vegas, the strange monolith imitates the vast desert landscape surrounding the mountain peak where it has been erected.

Stay Connected