Insp. Justin Vander Heyden, commander of Toronto police’s sex crimes unit, shares the findings of Operation H, a global investigation that ended in the safeguarding of 146 children.
The RCMP says a dozen children have been brought to safety and almost 50 people have been arrested countrywide as part of a long-running global investigation into “disturbing” child abuse images shared online.
At a Wednesday morning news conference, Toronto police detailed its role in “Operation H,” which was launched in October 2019 by New Zealand’s child exploitation team after a service provider found thousands of users of an online platform sharing child sexual abuse material online.
“This material depicted some of the most horrific abuse of children investigators had ever seen,” said Deputy Chief of Police Myron Demkiw at a Wednesday morning news conference.
New Zealand authorities said in a statement that the child abuse material “is some of the most egregious investigators have been exposed to. Many of the children featured in the images and videos were just infants who were exposed to obvious and intentional pain and suffering.”
New Zealand investigators co-ordinated with police departments worldwide — including the FBI, Europol and Interpol — in an effort to track down online users operating globally.
Authorities say they identified some 90,000 online accounts that had possessed or traded the images of abuse.
“To date, the international investigation has led to the opening of 836 cases internationally, the arrests of 46 individuals across New Zealand, the identification of more than 100 suspects across the EU and the safeguarding of 146 children across the globe,” Europol said in a statement.
The RCMP says 12 children have been removed from abusive situations across Canada as a result of the investigation. A total of 47 Canadians have been arrested, the Mounties say, with 186 charges laid.
They say arrests have been made in eight provinces over the past two years, and note the investigation is still underway.
Here in Toronto, police arrested and charged six men, ranging in ages from 31 to 41.
Insp. Justin Vander Heyden, commander of the Toronto police sex crimes unit, says the men were charged with a total of 18 offences related to the possession, access and distribution of child sexual abuse material.
Heyden says four of those men still remain before the courts, one has been convicted, and one has died.
Demkiw underscored the need to address child exploitation as a global issue, one the internet exacerbates by allowing offenders to commit these violent acts “anytime, anywhere.”
“Because these criminals operate across international borders, so too must the police,” he said.
Police are urging anyone who comes across online child abuse to visit Cybertip.ca, Canada’s tipline for reporting online child sexual abuse and exploitation.
With files from The Associated Press