TORONTO – At least 386 children have been rescued from sexual exploitation and hundreds of suspects arrested in a sweeping child pornography investigation that began with a Toronto man, police revealed Thursday.
“It’s a first for the magnitude of the victims saved,” said Insp Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, of the force’s Sex Crimes Unit. “The amount of arrests internationally, also a first.”
At least 348 people were arrested around the world as part of Project Spade, including 50 in Ontario and 58 from other parts of Canada.
School teachers, doctors, nurses, pastors and foster parents are among those facing charges in the wide-ranging operation that can be traced back to a business operating out of Toronto’s west end, police said.
“Its success has been extraordinary,” Beaven-Desjardins said of the investigation which spanned more than 50 countries.
“When we work together regardless of the borders that divide us, we can successfully track down those who not only prey on our most vulnerable but also those who profit from it.”
The investigation was sparked in October 2010 when undercover officers made contact with a Toronto man on the Internet who was allegedly sharing child pornography online.
The probe revealed a far-reaching web of child pornography which involved some of the most shocking abuse investigators had seen.
Police allege Brian Way, 42, had been running an “exploitation movie, production and distribution company” called Azov Films since 2005, and had made more than $4 million from the business.
Through his company, the man would allegedly contract people to create child porn videos involving kids, largely boys, between the ages of five and 12. Many of those videos were allegedly shot in Ukraine and Romania in apartments, dingy saunas and backyards.
Police allege the videos were then distributed from Toronto — through the mail and the Internet — to customers around the world.
Toronto authorities moved in to arrest Way in May 2011 and then, along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, spent months re-creating a customer database.
That information was shared with the RCMP and Interpol, which led to arrests of customers around the world and to the apprehension of those who allegedly created the videos.
Way has been charged with 24 offences, including the instruction of a criminal organization, a charge which police said had been applied for the first time in Canada in relation to child pornography. Police are still looking for Way’s mother, Susan Waslov.
Police say the sheer amount of images and videos seized in their investigation — 45 terabytes worth — was staggering.
“This is equivalent to a stack of paper as tall as 1,500 CN Towers,” said Beaven-Desjardins.
“Officers located hundreds of thousands of images and videos detailing horrific sexual acts against very young children, some of the worst that they have ever viewed.”
Gerald O’Farrell, acting deputy chief inspector of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, provided an unflinching snapshot of some of those arrested in the investigation.
They included a school employee who allegedly placed a hidden video camera in a student washroom, a youth baseball coach who pleaded guilty to making more than 500 child exploitation videos and a police officer, he said.
“The investigations involving these customers span across all segments of society,” O’Farrell said. “The success of this investigation was identifying those who posed an immediate risk to children.”
The Canada Centre for Child Protection commended the range of police forces that worked together on the international investigation but also issued a call Thursday for better safeguards against child abuse.
“We are asking all organizations that serve children carefully examine if they can be doing more to prevent child abuse,” said Signy Arnason. “We are not powerless, it is in our control.”