Hundreds arrested in Toronto in international child porn case

TORONTO – Toronto police said today that 341 people, including 108 Canadians, have be arrested in an international child pornography ring that was largely centred around a Toronto-based film company that distributed images and videos across the globe.

Police said the three-year investigation included Canadian and international law enforcement agencies and rescued. Dubbed Project Spade, police said the effort resulted in 386 children being saved from exploitation.

“It’s a first in terms of the magnitude of the victims saved,” head of the Toronto police’s sex crimes unit Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins said. “It’s been an ongoing, worldwide investigation.”

Beaven-Desjardins said Toronto police first became aware in 2010 that Toronto-based Azov Films was distributing pornographic images and videos of children as well as streaming them on its website.

The company was shut down in 2011 and its owner, Brian Way, was arrested. Way was charged with multiple counts related to child pornography, including selling and distributing child pornography and instructing commission of offence for criminal organization. According to police, the company had been operating since 2005 and had revenues in excess of $4-million.

Beaven-Desjardins said Toronto police subsequently shared the company’s customer databases with other Canadian as well as international law enforcement agencies.

American investigators with the U.S. Postal Service thanked the Toronto police Thursday, saying information on Azov led to more than 150 law enforcement actions against Americans who were purchasing material from the company.

“International cooperation is the most effective way to identify, track and combat those who sexually exploit children, who operate without borders,” the acting deputy chief inspector of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Gerald O’Farrell said. “It’s essential to stopping these crimes.”

Beaven-Desjardins said some of the children exploited in the films were as young as five. She said Azov commissioned videographers around the world to take pictures and images that the company would subsequently distribute through the mail and online. She said many of the victims were from the Ukraine and Romania.

Det. Cst. Lisa Belanger of the Toronto police child exploitation section said many of the pictures and videos were shot in people’s apartments, back yards and “dingy saunas.”

Beaven-Desjardin said that 24 Canadian children were rescued as a result of Project Spade. She said the children were not necessarily involved in the production of Azov material, and their exploitation was discovered when police were investigating people who bought material from the company.

At least two teachers and nine medical professionals were among the Canadians arrested.

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair called the investigation “extraordinary.”

“There is no greater responsibility of those who serve and protect than the protection of our children,” he said. “And exploitation of children is a crime for which law enforcement comes together united around the world to do our very best.” (CTV News)

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