The hunt for online child predators has led to the arrests of 17 individuals across the three Prairie provinces and two territories, the seizure of hundreds of thousands of images of abused children, and the rescue of a teenage boy.
The results – so far – of investigations called Operation Snapshot were revealed on Wednesday in Regina by police agencies, which said most of the victims were under the age of 12, and some were infants and toddlers.
A 14-year-old boy police believed suffered abuse for the past five years at the hands of a man who lived with his family in Saskatoon was brought to safety as part of the four-month operation. The teen's attacker has pleaded guilty, is serving a 30-month jail sentence and faces more charges, police said.
A long-time convicted sex offender in Manitoba was also snared as part of the 30 ongoing investigations involving 14 police agencies, officials said.
"Our preliminary investigations are showing that some of these offenders had massive collections of child pornography and had been building these collections for years," said Staff Sergeant Ron Weir of the Regina Police Service.
The operation, which began on June 1 and is continuing, reached into 15 communities including places in Alberta (where four people were arrested), Saskatchewan (10 arrests) and Manitoba (two arrests). The investigation also looked into Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, and resulted in one arrest in Fort Resolution, NWT, with no charges laid yet. Names of those charged were not released.
Inspector Pierre Leduc of the RCMP's Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children said the operation's main priority was to target high-risk and dangerous offenders involved in peer-to-peer file sharing. As a result, more than 100 computers and hard drives have been confiscated and a swath of charges have been laid including sexual assault, indecent exposure, invitation to sexual touching, accessing, possession, distribution and making of child porn as well as luring a child, he said.
"It is important to remember that for each high-risk offender that we identify, dozens of potential future victims are prevented and we send a strong message to individuals still at large today," Insp. Leduc said.
Sheldon Kennedy, the former National Hockey League player who was abused as a youngster by Graham James, his hockey coach, said it is a relief to see some arrests in what has become such a massive and sophisticated problem. But Mr. Kennedy, who has worked with outreach groups for abuse victims, such as the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre, said no amount of police work will stamp out child exploitation on the Iinternet.
"I don't think we're ever going to stop child abuse of any sort," he said. "But what we can do is the best we can to catch the bad guy, but I think more importantly … the ultimate goal is to give these kids a chance again."