Jailed Canadian alleged to be at centre of international child-porn crackdown

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A Canadian man is alleged to be at the centre of a huge international child-porn operation that apparently hid in plain sight for years.

Police in a dozen countries have arrested almost 350 people in a three-year operation dubbed Project Spade, spearheaded by the Toronto Police Service's child-exploitation section, and that 386 children were rescued.

Toronto resident Brian Way, 42, faces two dozen charges, including multiple counts of making and distributing child pornography and one of instructing the commission of an offence for a criminal organization, the first time such a charge has been laid in Canada connected to child exploitation, Toronto police said in their news release Thursday.

Way has been in custody since May of 2011 after being nabbed in an online undercover sting operation, the Globe and Mail reported.

The fresh wave of arrests includes 108 Canadians, 50 of them in Ontario, as well as suspects in countries ranging from the United States to Spain, Mexico, Ireland, Hong Kong, Australia and South Africa.

But police allege Way was at the centre of the operation. He operated a company called Azov Films, which openly marketed so-called naturist (aka nudist) DVDs and online streaming videos of naked young boys.

[ Related: U of A math professor caught up in global child porn sweep ]

Spanish police who were part of Operation Spade said Azov Films, which way ran since 2005, earned $1.6 million a year in sales in 94 countries, the Globe reported.

Its alleged child-porn involvement became public after Way was busted. Something called boywiki.org began tracking the investigation earlier this year as police arrested Azov customers.

Toronto police raids in May 2011 turned up a hoard of video material at Azov's building, said Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, head of the child-exploitation unit. Investigators turned up more than 45 terabytes of information.

"To give you some perspective, this is equivalent to a stack of paper as tall as 1,500 CN Towers," she told a news conference Thursday.

Beaven-Desjardins said police also executed a search warrant at Way's home. There, investigators turned up hundreds of thousands of images and videos "detailing horrific sexual acts against very young children, some of the worst that they have ever viewed," she said.

Azov appears to have operated openly, taking advantage of a grey area in the law regarding child nudity. The Criminal Code outlaws depiction of children's genitals for a sexual purpose, which presumably opened the door to sell "naturist" images of frolicking naked young boys.

U.S. law appears more vague. David Eisenlohr, who had his own naturist video business in California, was acquitted of trading in child porn in 2009 for successfully arguing his videos were not pornographic, the Globe said.

While he was being prosecuted, Eisenlohr wrote letters to the U.S. and Canadian governments complaining Way was pirating his videos and reselling them, the Globe said.

Operation Spade, meanwhile was going after Way and his web site Azovfilms.com, which was shut down after his arrest.

[ Related: Lawyer working for U.S. Christian values group accused of filming child pornography in Canada ]

Police told the Toronto Star the site was very sophisticated, allowing users to look at its Top 10 lists and read reviews from other customers, like mainstream online shopping sites, and customers could pay by credit card.

The site even had a page reassuring customers its videos were legal, the Star said, noting the Crown must prove the videos were for a sexual rather than artistic purpose.

The raid on Way's operation also provided Azov's customer list, which allowed police in Canada and abroad to go after buyers.

After screening more than 500 videos featuring 283,000 images of what investigators considered child pornography, police focused on 150 of the most troubling ones, the Star said. By cross-referencing them with Azov's customer database, police were able to make further arrests.

Police allege Way commissioned videos to be produced in Eastern Europe. A German videographer, Markus Rudolph Roth, has been named as a co-conspirator, along with Way's mother, Sandra Waslov, who the Globe said is believed to be in the United States.

Those arrested since Operation Spade began include a Chatham, Ont., hockey coach, a Toronto teacher, a priest and Scout leader in Quebec and a retire Nova Scotia school principal, the Star said.

Suspects abroad include professionals, police officers, teachers and members of the clergy. Some have already pleaded guilty.

Many of those charged volunteered their time to work with children, police said.