Canada

Hundreds of charges laid in OPP child sexual abuse investigation

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) revealed what the service is calling the “staggering results” of a series of investigations into online child sexual abuse and exploitation Wednesday.

The multi-jurisdictional investigations involved 27 police services from across the province, including those in the Greater Toronto Area.

Det. Staff Sgt. Tim Brown told reporters Wednesday that the investigations focused on people who make, access and distribute child sexual abuse material.

There are now 64 people across Ontario facing a total of 348 charges, he said, with 34 child victims involved. Police say they seized 607 digital devices as part of the investigation.

“With each passing year, the tools used by predators who wish to harm our children grow more sophisticated and harder to trace,” Brown said.

In a news release issued Wednesday, police said during the course of the investigation, one person set up a meeting with undercover officers thinking they would be meeting with a child.

In another instance, police found a person who was in possession of about 21 terabytes of data including child sexual abuse material.

A police-provided list of people charged linked to the case lists individuals from across the province, and one man from Alberta. 

Those accused span a wide breadth of ages — the youngest being a 16-year-old from Windsor charged with possessing, accessing and making available child pornography, while the oldest is an 89-year-old man from Toronto charged with possession of child pornography.

Brown said some of the accused charged as part of this investigation had been previously released and were out on bail, but he did not provide any specific numbers as to how many.

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Brown also said AI-generated images have created a problem for investigators, who now have to differentiate between what he called “real and synthetic victims.”

Signy Arnason, associate executive director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, told reporters Wednesday that the number of AI-generated sexual abuse images her team is finding just keeps growing:

They found 2,600 such images in 2022, she said, compared to 3,700 in 2023, and 500 in one month alone this year.

“So we’re probably on course for 6,000 at least this year,” she said.

“To say it’s a nightmare would be an understatement.”

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