Five from northern Ontario charged in province-wide child exploitation bust
Following a huge, province-wide investigation into online child exploitation in Ontario last month– dubbed Project Maverick – police are releasing the results.
The investigation involved the Ontario Provincial Police and 26 municipal police forces, including North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Timmins.
More than 100 people, including five in northern Ontario, have been charged as a result and more than 120 child victims identified.
ACCUSED IN SAULT STE. MARIE
A 31-year-old man in Sault Ste. Marie has been charged with possession of child pornography and making it available to others after officers received a referral in July from the National Child Exploitation Crime Centre about someone having potentially illicit material, police said in a news release.
Sault police searched the man's home and devices, seizing two, on Sept. 21. He was arrested Oct. 19 and held in custody pending a bail hearing.
ACCUSED IN THE NORTH BAY AREA
A 21-year-old male from McDougall was charged Oct. 14 as part of Project Maverick while in custody at a correctional centre, North Bay police told CTV News in an email.
He was charged with the following at that time from incidents that happened between November 2015 and June 2022:
- Makes, prints, publishes or possess for the purpose of publication any child pornography
- Having child pornography
- Assault with a weapon
- Criminal harassment
- Uttering threats
- Two counts of failing to comply with a probation order
North Bay police said only one of those charges is included in the Project Maverick statistics.
His name is being withheld by police to protect the identity of the victim.
ACCUSED IN TIMMINS
Timmins police confirmed that a 61-year-old local man is listed as being part of the Project Maverick "round up," but do not have the details on the charge(s).
CTV News reached out to Greater Sudbury Police Service for details about charges made in connection with the child exploitation bust, but have not yet received a response.
'DISTURBINGLY YOUNG VICTIMS'
The Sault Ste. Marie Police Tech Crimes Unit said some of the material they see involves disturbingly young victims.
"We are seeing material that includes everything from toddlers to children who are later teens, but are still under 18," said Sgt. Mike Rogers, of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service.
Insp. Jordan Whitesell, head of the OPP’s Counter Exploitation Unit, said children who fall victim to sexual exploitation often deal with the aftermath for many years.
"Once that child is victimized and that image is memorialized and then shared, that child is victimized every time that image is shared," said Whitesell.
IMPACT ON INVESTIGATORS
With the disturbing nature of the material investigators are exposed to, steps are taken to ensure officers investigating these types of crimes have access to mental health support.
"We make sure that the officers aren’t over-exposed and that we’re doing things to mitigate," said Rogers.
"But, at the end of the day, it’s difficult."
"I make sure that we understand the difference between the sacrifice that we’re being asked to do in the name of protecting children, but not suffering," said Whitesell.
"So, we have a lot of mental health resources available for those officers."
WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS
Rogers said there are things parents can do to safeguard their children while online.
"Know the websites they’re on, know who they’re chatting with, who they’re talking to, and hopefully help prevent the luring of that child," he said.
More charges could be coming, as the OPP said there are 175 ongoing investigations.
People are encouraged to contact their local police service if they suspect a child is being exploited. Online child abuse can also be reported to police via CyberTip.ca.
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