Forty-seven Canadians have been arrested and 12 children have been removed from abusive situations as part of a global investigation into online child sexual exploitation, the RCMP said Wednesday.
The Mounties said 186 charges have been laid in Canada so far during the investigation, dubbed Operation H. Arrests have been made in eight provinces over the past two years, they said, adding the investigation is still underway.
The RCMP say the probe began in New Zealand in the fall of 2019, after law enforcement officials there were alerted by an electronic service provider who had discovered a large number of subscribers sharing “some of the most graphic and violent child sexual abuse material online.”
Some 90,000 accounts were identified as possessing or sharing child sexual abuse material, they said.
“Online child sexual exploitation is borderless and is among the most heinous crimes targeting our most vulnerable – our children. … Operation H is a prime example of how global collaboration can help all of our countries to protect children,” RCMP Supt. Andre Boileau of the National Child Exploitation Crime Centre said in a news release.
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.”
The international investigation has led to the arrests of dozens of suspects in New Zealand, and the safeguarding of 146 children around the world, they and the European Union police agency Europol said Wednesday.
More than 800 cases have been opened internationally and more than 100 suspects identified across the EU, Europol said.
Toronto police, who were contacted as part of the probe, said they have arrested and charged six men with a total of 18 offences, including some related to possessing, accessing and distributing child sex abuse material.
Toronto police Insp. Justin Vander Heyden of the sex crimes unit said one of the accused has since been convicted and jailed, one has died, and the other four are still going through the justice system.
The suspects are between the ages of 31 and 41.
—Paola Loriggio, with files from The Associated Press