OPP with Project Aquatic’s help have arrested 64 suspects in child sexual exploitation investigations

Ontario Provincial Police. Image Credit: Ontario Provincial Police official Website

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CMEDIA: 64 suspects facing a combined 348 charges in connection with a series of child sexual exploitation investigations that spanned the province, have been arrested, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said Wed morning during a news conference in Scarborough.

Launched in Feb 2024, the multi-jurisdictional case, dubbed Project Aquatic included 129 separate investigations, involving 27 police services from across the province, including those in the Greater Toronto Area, involving online sexual abuse material, said the police.

“These completed investigations demonstrate the scope of the issue regarding child sexual abuse material, which remains a pervasive safety issue that is often unseen by many members of the public”, said a news release.

As part of the investigation, over 600 digital devices were seized, and 34 child victims were identified, Det.- Sgt. Tim Brown told reporters Wednesday.

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

As a result of Project Aquatic, Police noted that another 30 children were “safeguarded,” which Brown defined as removing children from “a dangerous position” where they could be “offended against.”

The majority of the investigation being “reactive,” with investigators responding to complaints from different electronic service providers.

“We are working tirelessly to continuously apply pressure to those who seek to harm our children,” Brown told reporters. “These dangers are not confined to the shadowy corners of the internet. Predators go where children go.”

About two to three thousand tips per month are received by Canada’s tipline, Cybertip.ca, for reporting online child sexual abuse and exploitation, Signy Arnason, the Associate Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection said .

“Through our work, we have observed growing networks of adults with problematic sexual interest in children… share child abuse sexual material…tactics that include how-to manuals…They normalize the sexual abuse and exploitation of children…and even stalk them well into adulthood..dark web fester…facilitate this conduct and AI generated images…already epidemic-sized issued,” said Arnason.

She also told reporters Wedn that the number of AI-generated sexual abuse images her team is finding just keeps growing with 3,700 such images found in 2023, as copared to, 600 such images found  in 2022, and added that and 500 suchimages were found in one month alone this year.

“So we’re probably on course for 6,000 at least this year. To say it’s a nightmare would be an understatement,” she said.

Brown also said that AI-generated images were problematic for investigators who now have to differentiate between what he called “real and synthetic victims.”.

A list of people charged linked to the case, privided by police, include individuals from across the province, and one man from Alberta.

Those accused belonged to the age group from 16 to 89.