Ontario wide child exploitation investigation sees 64 charged

Two Kingston residents are among 64 people facing child exploitation charges as a result of the Ontario wide "Project Aquatic" investigation.

While some of the perpetrators, including minors, have not been named - 37 year old Eric Foell and 44 year old Anthony Cochrane were identified as the Kingston locals facing charges that include making child pornography, voyeurism, and bestiality.

Ontario Provincial Police announced the arrests at a news conference in Scarborough on Wednesday morning, thanking 27 police agencies who participated in the investigation including Kingston Police.

Members of the Provincial Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Strategy conducted the investigation between February 19 and February 29 of this year, which resulted in 348 total charges placed on the 64 perpetrators.

Those arrested included teenagers, but were primarily adults at a range of ages making, possessing and distributing child sexual abuse material.

OPP Staff Sergeant Tim Brown, lead of the ICE team, said 34 victims were identified and another 30 children were 'safeguarded' - meaning removing a child from a dangerous situation where they could be offended against.

Brown said in the OPP's release that it takes support from the community to tackle child exploitation.

"Child sexual exploitation is a grave crime with lasting effects," Brown said.

"We're dedicated to prevention and accountability. We need everyone's support to combat this community issue."

The OPP highlighted the arrest of individuals including a perpetrator who arranged a meet up with undercover investigators, with the intent of meeting with a child for sexual purposes.

Another individual who was arrested was discovered with roughly 21 terabytes of child porn.

Over 600 electronic devices were seized as part of the investigation.

Brown said that a majority of investigations as part of Project Aquatic were "reactive", stemming from complaints from different electronic service providers, but some were proactive.

At the OPP's media event, they unveiled a graphic of an iceberg showing the 129 investigations completed during Project Aquatic and the 8,638 investigations completed in 2023 above the surface.

In the iceberg graphic, 82,082 investigations are represented beneath the water, having been completed between 2006 and 2023.

Within that period, 29,025 charges were laid against 7,493 people - the OPP says it displays the sheer scope of child exploitation issues that many people are simply unaware of.

Resources for keeping children safe are available at the Canadian Center for Child Protection or cybertip.ca.

Federal legislation, Bill C-63, that in part is aimed at protecting children against sexual victimization, was tabled in February but has not yet been debated in the House of Commons.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News