Police: Sex abuse arrests in Canada began with probe of company

Police: Sex abuse arrests in Canada began with probe of company

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(CNN) -- A three-year investigation into an exploitative Toronto-based film company has netted nearly 350 arrests and rescued more than 380 children from sexual abuse, police said Thursday.

Law enforcement from all over the world, primarily in Eastern Europe and the United States, worked with Toronto police since 2010 to arrest those who produced child pornography and those who purchased it.

The owner of the film company, Brian Way, has been in jail since 2011 awaiting trial, and the producers who made the illegal films have been convicted in their home countries, Toronto police Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins said.

The investigation is ongoing and more arrests will be made, but authorities decided it was time to share with the public the scope of its operation, known as Project Spade.

Among the 348 people arrested in the international child sex abuse investigation were 40 teachers, six law enforcement personnel, nine pastors or priests and some doctors and nurses, Beaven-Desjardins said.

Throughout the investigation, 386 children have been rescued, she said, referring to their removal from situations where they were being abused.

Authorities were first tipped off about Toronto-based Azov Films in 2005, Beaven-Desjardins said, but no charges were filed at the time. An archived version of the company's website shows that it sold naturist, or nudist, films that featured children. The website claimed that the videos were not sexually explicit and that the nudism it depicted was legal under free speech laws.

But the nature of the films changed, Beavens-Desjardins said, and a raid on the company's office happened in 2011.

Investigators spent four days searching through all the materials at the location, she said. In all, there were more than 46,000 gigabytes -- about 45 terabytes -- of movies recovered.

With the help of the United States Postal Inspection Service, police were able to reconstruct customer lists, which led to arrests of purchasers of child pornography around the world.

Of those arrested, 108 were taken into custody in Canada and 76 in the United States.

Most of the movies were produced in Romania and the Ukraine, Beavens-Desjardins said.

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