Toronto police bring down international child pornography ring
At least 386 children have been saved from child exploitation around the world, thanks to Project Spade – a massive, international investigation headed by the Toronto Police Service (TPS).
The TPS started investigating a Toronto-based individual that was suspected of sharing graphic images of children being sexual abused in 2010.
This investigation led officers to uncover a company called Azov Films, which allegedly created and distributed images and videos of child pornography.
Project Spade was created and by 2011 police were able to obtain search warrants for a home and business in Toronto. What they discovered would take years to unravel.
Investigators found 45 terabytes of data with images and video of child sexual exploitation.
“This is equivalent to a stack of paper as tall as 1,500 CN Towers,” said Toronto police Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins.
It took four days for officers just to catalogue the thousands of videos found on computers and other media and Beaven-Desjardins said officers saw “horrific sexual acts against very young children, some of the worst that they had ever viewed.”
Alleged owner, 42-year-old Brian Way, is currently facing 24 charges regarding sexual exploitation and has been in custody since May 2011. Beaven-Desjardins said it is the “first time in Canada that anyone has been charged with being part of a criminal organization in regards to child pornography.”
Way’s company is believed to have revenue of over $4 million. He is also suspected of paying for films from Eastern European countries. The material was sold exclusively through his company and was shared through the United States Postal Service.
Beaven-Desjardins said that all the international producers have been convicted in their respective countries.
The TPS worked with many organizations around the world, including the United States Postal Inspection Service to determine where the films were sold.
Since Way’s arrest in 2011, police have been working to recreate the client database and have made 348 arrests worldwide.
Of those arrests 50 were individuals from Ontario, 58 from the rest of Canada, 76 from the United States and 164 were International.
Many of the accused worked in close proximity to children. Forty of them were school teachers, nine doctors and nurses, 32 volunteers with children, six worked in law enforcement, nine were pastors or priests and three were foster parents.
Beaven-Desjardins cited the example of a search warrant that was executed in Canada on a retired school teacher’s residence. He was found with over 350,000 images and 9,000 videos of child exploitation. Some of the children were known to him and he was also charged with sexually abusing a young child relative, she said.
The investigation relied on the bridging of international borders and police are quick to credit the help of mulitple agencies from over 50 countries in bringing down the child exploitation ring.
“There is no greater responsibility for those of us who have sworn to serve and protect than the protection of our children,” said Chief William Blair in a press conference, Nov. 14. “The exploitation of children is a crime for which law enforcement comes together united – around the world – to do our very best to protect those individuals who can’t protect themselves.”
The investigation is still ongoing but is at a point where police feel comfortable releasing information to the public. Beaven-Desjardins suspects that more arrests will be made in the future.