Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Published on Thursday 24 November 2022 at 8:42 PM EST
OTTAWA – A Toronto-area police force failed to catch men in an operation targeting buyers of sexual services from children, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.
The finding came Thursday in unanimous rulings in four appeals arising from arrests and prosecutions in Project Raphael, a York The regional police’s investigation began in 2014.
As part of the investigation, police placed fake classified ads in the escort section of the former website Backpage.
When someone answered, an undercover officer posing as the escort would reveal in a subsequent text chat that she was a minor.
People who continued the chat and arranged sex were told to report to a hotel room where the police arrested and charged them.
The investigation led to the arrests of 104 men for child luring and related offenses between 2014 and 2017.
The Supreme Court concluded that Project Raphael was a bona fide investigation that did not constitute confinement under the Act.
Some of the most damaging crimes are the most difficult to investigate, Judge Andromache Karakatsanis wrote in one of the rulings Thursday that spelled out the court’s reasons.
“To bring these crimes out into the open, police acting undercover sometimes create opportunities for people to commit the very crimes they seek to prevent. Done properly, such techniques can shed new light on hidden offenses and reveal harm , who would otherwise go unpunished,” she said.
“But taken too far, they can tempt the vulnerable or the morally faltering to crime and virtue test many others, threatening privacy and public confidence in the justice system. They require caution.”
The stakes are highest on the Internet, Karakatsanis wrote.
“While the medium has made activities more efficient, widespread and harder to track, it has also enabled state surveillance to become, potentially, ever more expansive. The dilemmas this creates in balancing law enforcement with civil liberties, the rule of law and the reputation of the judicial system is started.”
The court said that when police lack reasonable suspicion that a person is already engaged in criminal activity, the containment doctrine prohibits them from offering opportunities to commit offenses unless they do so in the course of a bona fide investigation.
Police must reasonably suspect that crime is taking place in a sufficiently precise space and have a real purpose to investigate and suppress crime, the court noted.
The court concluded that the police had reasoned to suspect an area defined with sufficient precision—in this case, the particular type of ads in Backpage’s escort subfolder that emphasized the sex worker’s extreme youth.
In addition, the offenses the police had offered were rationally connected and proportionate to the crime they reasonably suspected was taking place in the room in question, the court found.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2022.