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Courtesy Ontario Provincial Police, May 8, 2024

64 arrested in crackdown on child exploitation

By Randy Thoms May 8, 2024 | 12:28 PM

Two people from Thunder Bay are among 64 individuals facing charges following a province-wide investigation into online child exploitation.

Twenty-seven different police agencies were involved in the probe identified as Project Aquatic.

Their investigations took place during a ten-day period in February.

Police laid 348 charges against the individuals arrested.

Those arrested were all men, ranging in age from 16 to 70.

The men from Thunder Bay were 18 and 28.

Police say those arrested were intent on making, possessing and distributing child sexual abuse material.

OPP Detective Staff Sergeant Tim Brown says many of the cases originated with a complaint from an online service provider.

“So we were reacting to complaints from different electronic service providers,” says Staff/Sgt Brown.

“Services like any of the social media platforms, have a duty to report certain things and that gets reported to us. So the bulk of this project was that in response to those sort of reactive complaints.”

One arrest was made following an undercover operation conducted online in which the person set up a meeting with the intent of meeting a child to have sex.

More than 600 electronic devices were also seized.

One person possessed approximately 21 terabytes of data containing child sexual abuse material.

That is equivalent to having storage on 330 iPhones or 80 laptops.

One terabyte can store up to 250,000 photos or 500 hours of video.

Brown says the technology used by perpetrators is becoming more sophisticated and tough to trace.

“From advanced encryption to the dark web, these factors add to the complexity of police investigations. With the advent of AI-generated images, our task to differentiate between real and synthetic victims adds yet another element to our efforts in apprehending those who make, possess, access, and distribute child sexual abuse material,” says Brown.

“However, this does not deter us. With every device we analyze, every perpetrator we bring to justice, we are together disrupting the criminal activity threatening our children.”

Brown admits it is getting tough to keep up.

Hotlines around the world are flooded with reports involving concerns of child sexual abuse material and online sexual violence towards youth.

Brown says along with ongoing public reporting, government action and regulation are also needed to change course.