Canadians arrested in international pedophile ring
Two Canadians were among 184 suspects arrested in connection with one of the largest international pedophile rings ever uncovered, police announced Wednesday.
RCMP confirmed to CTV.ca that one Canadian suspect was arrested by police in Saskatchewan, while another was nabbed by police in Waterloo, Ont.
The arrests were the result of a three-year investigation, code named Operation Rescue, which has so far identified 670 suspects in more than 30 countries, including police officers, teachers and scout leaders.
The European Union police agency Europol said that so far, investigators have safeguarded 230 children, the most ever in this type of investigation. The number of children identified and rescued will rise as the investigation continues, police said.
David John Lapage, 68, of Abernethy, Sask. was arrested on Nov. 19, 2009 in connection with the probe, Sgt. Patrick Nogier told CTV.ca.
Nogier, provincial co-ordinator for Saskatchewan's Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) unit, said the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre informed his office of a suspect in the province on Nov. 15 of that year. Nogier said once they received that information "obviously we triaged that and we put it up to the forefront so we could get on it right away."
Lapage is facing three charges: possession of child abuse images, accessing child abuse images and making available child abuse images. He is awaiting a preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for May 18.
Olaf Heinzel, public affairs co-ordinator for Waterloo Regional Police, told CTV.ca the force arrested a 40-year-old Kitchener man early last November.
Philip Publuske was charged with distribution and possession of child pornography. He is currently in custody. His next court appearance is scheduled for March 28.
Europol director Rob Wainwright said in a statement on Wednesday that the pedophile ring was centred on an online forum called boylover.net, based in Amsterdam, which was "probably the largest online pedophile network in the world."
Wainwright added: "These are very serious crimes on a truly global basis."
As many as 70,000 people belonged to the forum, which Wainwright described as a website where pedophiles could "share their sexual interest in young boys."
The site has since been shut down.
The investigation was headed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre in the United Kingdom, with the help of law enforcement agencies in 13 countries around the world, including Canada.
A spokesperson for the centre said more arrests are expected as the investigation continues.
"Those who have been members of the site can expect a knock on the door in the very near future," Peter Davies said.
Europol said in a news release that the site "promoted sexual relationships between adults and young boys." It served as a discussion-only forum where members could discuss their sexual interests without committing actual offences, which was designed to prevent the site from being noticed by police.
Once users made contact on the site, they often moved to more private communication channels, such as email, to share photographs and videos of children being abused.
According to Europol, computers seized from the suspects "have harvested huge quantities of child abuse images and videos."
Many of the suspects are considered by police to have been directly involved with sexually abusing children. One suspect in Spain worked at summer youth camps and is accused of abusing 100 children over five years. The oldest suspect is an 84-year-old Australian who had been living in Thailand.
Europol released parts of discussions and posts to the site, including a conversation between two suspects about their attraction to boys in diapers.
One suspect said he had a boy wear a diaper every weekend for four years, when the child was between nine and 13. "They were the happiest four years of my life," he said.
On Wednesday, Europol said the case was broken wide open when analysts with the agency cracked the security code of a key server for the site. This allowed investigators to "uncover the identity and activity of the suspected child sex offenders," the agency said.
Police from the U.K. and Australia infiltrated the site to identify suspects who posed the highest risk to children. They also trailed members to other sites, which widened the investigation.
Between June 2008 and June 2009, law enforcement agencies from Canada, Italy, New Zealand and the United States were brought into the investigation.
In 2009, the CEOP Centre located the website's owner and traced the server to the Netherlands. In January 2010, Europol received a copy of the site's server, which allowed them to glean information that has since been disseminated to law enforcement agencies around the world.