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A man in Sweden is charged with raping girls in Canada and two other countries entirely through online contact, in what prosecutors are calling a potentially precedent-setting case.

Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A man in Sweden is charged with raping girls in Canada and two other countries entirely through online contact, in what prosecutors are calling a potentially precedent-setting case.

Bjorn Samstrom, whose trial is underway, is charged with dozens of offences, including "gross rape," involving 27 girls, two of them Canadian, according to one of the prosecutors in the case. The other girls are in the United States and Britain.

The allegations involving the Canadians date back to 2015, when the two girls – one from Ontario, the other from Alberta – were 13, the prosecutor said.

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In an interview from Stockholm, Annika Wennerstrom said Samstrom is accused of coercing girls to perform sexual acts in front of webcams by threatening them or their families.

Under Swedish law, rape does not have to involve intercourse, Wennerstrom said. It can be another act considered to be equally violating.

The country's highest court has previously ruled that sexual assault, which is a lesser charge, can be committed through the internet but has yet to convict someone of rape in the same way, she said.

Wennerstrom said the courts have said in other cases that rape could "hypothetically" occur over the Internet, but the offences being tried did not meet the threshold.

She believes the crimes Samstrom is accused of committing are "horrific" enough to be considered rape.

"We see them as rape of a different kind," she said. "They are forced to do it, they are threatened to do it, it's painful and it goes on, in some cases, for a long time. They have absolutely no choice and they are terrified."

Police found video recordings of young English-speaking girls while investigating Samstrom in connection with another alleged sex crime involving Swedish complainants, the lawyer said. In some of the footage, they could hear Samstrom's voice or see other information that linked him to the video, she said.

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Prosecutors reached out to Canadian authorities and the case was brought to the attention of the RCMP, who worked with local police to identify the girls, she said.

Eventually, a delegation from Sweden travelled to Canada to help interview the two girls, now 15, she said. Video of the interviews will be presented at Samstrom's trial so the teens won't have to testify, she said.

The trial is expected to wrap in November, but Wennerstrom predicted the decision will be appealed regardless of the outcome.

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