64 suspects arrested in ‘significant’ child sexual exploitation investigation across Ontario

A province-wide investigation leads to 30 children safeguarded from perpetrators online. Afua Baah has the staggering results from Project Aquatic and how A.I. is playing a role in this horrific crime.

More than 60 people were arrested, and over 300 charges have been laid in a province-wide online child exploitation investigation, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) announced on Wednesday.

OPP officials revealed the details of Project Aquatic, an investigation that began in February, with authorities identifying and arresting those accused of making, possessing and distributing child sexual abuse material.

During the investigation, it’s alleged that one individual set up a meeting with undercover investigators intending to meet with a child in real life for a sexual purpose. Another person owned approximately 21 terabytes of data containing child sexual abuse material.

OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said 34 identified victims were provided victim support, and 30 impacted children were safeguarded. The ages of the victims range from infants to teenagers.

Through Project Aquatic, 64 people are facing over 300 combined charges. More than 600 electronic devices were seized. The ages of the accused range from 16 to 89.

“Our collective strength lies in our ongoing commitment to protect children from the impacts of sexual exploitation,” said OPP Commissioner Carrique.

OPP identify some of the accused, including several from GTA

Among the 64 people arrested through Project Aquatic is former Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) employee Tyler Pennells of Etobicoke, one of the few named by the OPP in the investigation.

Toronto police charged Pennells in February after he allegedly used various names on social media to contact minors. A TCDSB spokesperson confirmed that Pennells had been placed on administrative leave. His next court date is slated for Thursday.

The OPP also named another man from Toronto who allegedly placed hidden cameras inside washrooms at various coffee shops.

Tyler Pennells of Etobicoke (left) and William Jeon of Toronto. Photo: CityNews.

The accused, identified as 29-year-old William Jeon of Toronto, was arrested in September 2023 after authorities determined he was in possession of child sexual abuse material.

In February, authorities said that between Jan. 1, 2020, and Sept. 21, 2023, the accused was employed at coffee shops in the Cumberland Street and Bay Street and the Bay Street and Richmond Street West areas. It’s alleged that Jeon placed cameras in the coffee shop washrooms to discreetly record people.

Jeon has been released from custody and is scheduled to make a court appearance on June 5, 2024.

OPP Staff Sergeant Tim Brown called child sexual exploitation a grave crime with lasting effects.

“We’re dedicated to prevention and accountability. We need everyone’s support to combat this community issue. If you see something, report it,” said Brown. “Together, we can create a safer environment for all children, ensuring their well-being and protection.”

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