Canada
3 min

Another child-porn dragnet

Most recent smut bust predictably not what it seems

Sixty Ontario men are facing charges after a massive provincewide child pornography bust, police announced on Feb 2.
 
“Charges include sexual assault, child luring, possession of child pornography, make available child pornography, distribution of child pornography, making child pornography, and accessing child pornography. In addition, 22 victims have been identified during the investigation. Quantities of drugs and weapons were also seized during the operations,” reads a press release on the Ontario Provincial Police website.
 
It sounds as though police have once again rounded up the lowest of the low: shadowy criminals awaiting any chance to beguile, cold-cock, photograph and rape unsuspecting children. But a closer look at the list of charges seems to tell a somewhat less ominous, more nuanced, story.
 
Firstly, although sexual assault is listed first in the press release, in fact only three of the 213 enumerated charges are for sexual assault. All of them are filed against a single suspect. Of the 213 charges, 136 are for possession of child pornography, accessing child pornography or making available child pornography. None of those charges imply that the accused ever had any direct contact or even online communication with anyone who might be considered a victim under the law.
 
Secondly, three of those charged cannot be named under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. All three are 16 – children themselves in the eyes of the law, sexually mature but barely older than the recently risen age of sexual consent – and are charged with possession and making available child porn. One is also charged with making child porn. Of the remaining accused, seven are younger than 25.
 
Finally, there are two names on the list of accused men who have no charges associated with them. In the fields where the charges ought to appear, one is marked “nil” and the other reads, “unconditional release pending further investigation.” These men are apparently accused of nothing but are nevertheless named on a list of “charged persons” in connection with a child pornography dragnet.  
 
There are clearly villains in the world who need to be exposed as such and stopped, but this child-porn dragnet narrative put forward so regularly by police and the mainstream media smacks of witch-hunt hysteria. People hit with child porn charges so often seem to be collected into groups of 60 or 70 individuals, presented as seemingly organized rings, and trotted in front of the media for virtual perp walks. It seems like a kind of Ahabian obsession among police with the intersection of youth and sexuality. Police conspicuously don’t seem to hold similar press conferences or issue similar press releases about firearms, for example, even though there are regular gun crimes across the province, particularly in Toronto. In fact, you don’t often hear of police dragnet press conferences that aren’t about child porn. And the implications for the accused in these cases are so profound, even if they are never convicted of anything.They are guilty in the courts of public opinon from the very first press release, regardless of what really happened. And the secrecy surrounding these cases, imposed ostensibly to protect victims, serves also to blot the wider issues from the public record. Prosecutions in these cases are effectively secret trials. Exonerations are almost never trumpeted, but once charged, once named, sex offenders are branded for life.
 
And of course, child porn task forces have a rather more pronounced history of failure than they do of success. Remember, for example, Toronto teacher David Dewees, who threw himself under the wheels of a subway train in 2009 after the Toronto Star erroneously reported that he had been charged with sexual assault? Remember York University researcher Richard Dyde, who killed himself in 2010 after he was charged in connection with an earlier child porn dragnet? What about the child porn crusades in London and Cornwall that ruined so many lives, preyed on irrational fears, held whole cities in their grips for years, but ultimately amounted to nothing? And of course, there are some stark parallels between all these events and the raids on gay bathhouses in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, in which hundreds of gay men were charged with sex crimes and paraded through courts and exposed to opprobrium because politicians and police wanted to protect society from moral corruption.

There simply has to be a better way.