Police say a multi-year investigation targeting offenders who allegedly sought to buy sex from children in York Region, north of Toronto, has led to the arrests of more than 100 men.
At a news conference on Friday, York Regional Police announced the results of their years-long undercover operation, “Project Raphael,” aimed at finding and arresting those who solicit sex from underage children.
Police said 104 men have been arrested over a period of several years, as investigators posed online as children between the ages of 13 and 16, purporting to be sex workers.
Of the 40 cases now resolved by the courts, 35 of them, or 87 per cent, ended with guilty pleas or convictions.
Sixty-four cases are still before the courts.
Briefing reporters on Friday, Det. Sgt. Thai Truong said there were “no actual child victims in this project."
Truong added, "All of the men that were arrested, were arrested for attempting to purchase prostituted children."
Project Raphael, which was funded with a grant from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, began in 2014.
To illustrate the scope of the project, police noted that in just three days of the investigation in 2017, officers arrested 19 men who believed that they were purchasing sex from either a 13-year-old or a 14-year-old.
The men charged in the investigation ranged in age from 18 to 71 years old. Most were from the Greater Toronto Area, but some travelled to York Region from other provinces, police said.
Investigators said nearly all the men were first-time offenders, and had stable jobs and families.
Truong told reporters that investigators did not pursue those men who stopped attempting to solicit sex after learning that the victims were children.
Truong also said that the undercover sting is one aspect of the force’s multi-pronged approach to rescuing victims of human trafficking, and charging those who buy and sell sex with children.
Police focused on men who allegedly tried to buy sex from underage individuals in a bid to curb demand, Truong said.
“The world of human trafficking is an ugly world,” he said. “We see a lot of lives destroyed.”
On Twitter, York region police displayed text conversations between offenders and officers posing as children: