47 men arrested by Vancouver police in operation targeting alleged sexual predators

Vancouver police say 47 men — including a retired school teacher, a former school trustee and a firefighter — were arrested during a two-month operation last year targeting people allegedly willing to pay teenagers for sex acts.

Suspects greeted by police after text chats with supposed teenage girls

Deputy chief Const. Laurence Rankin announced the charges at the Vancouver police headquarters on Thursday morning. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Vancouver police say 47 men — including a retired school teacher, a former school trustee and a firefighter — were arrested during a two-month operation last year targeting people allegedly willing to pay teenagers for sex acts.

On Thursday, deputy chief Const. Laurence Rankin said the operation began with detectives posting fake ads on escort websites and social media platforms. Those who responded were told, by text, they were chatting with a girl between 15 and 17 years old.

Rankin said the "vast majority" of men backed off after that, but 47 wanted to meet up.

Hotel meetings were set up once age, sex act and fee were established, he said. The men were arrested after showing up, apparently expecting something sexual as arranged, but running into police officers instead.

Rankin said different men had different reactions when they realized what was happening.

"You had everything from people who would acquiesce and people who would fight," he said. "Some attempted to provide an explanation… some told [officers] to go out and find criminals to arrest."

Officers spoke with the suspects over text message, after they responded to ads on escort websites and social media. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

'All walks of life'

Seven of the men, including the former teacher and trustee, have been charged with obtaining for consideration the sexual services of a person under the age of 18. Police said they are working with the Crown to lay more charges.

Rankin said the men arrested come from "all walks of life," and declined to provide names for all of them, because some haven't gone before the courts.

He said there's no evidence to indicate the men knew each other. At least one, he said, was a tourist. Another was "a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang."

The Crown, however, confirmed the names of the seven who have been charged:

  • Mario Celo Amistad.
  • Jim Malmros.
  • Jun Jie He.
  • Nikolaos Dais.
  • Donald Schroeder.
  • Kenneth Clement.
  • Mehran Arefi.

Those men's ages range from 24 to 68 years old.

Nikolaos Dais, one of the men, previously taught at Vancouver's Little Flower Academy but is now retired, according to the school's principal, Diane Little.

She declined to say when Dais taught at the private, girls' Catholic school, but said the news is "shocking." Little said the school was notified by police.

A school website lists Dais as the head coach of the Grade 8 basketball team during the 2016-17 season.

Kenneth Clement, another man facing charges, is a former trustee with the Vancouver School Board who retired in June. He pleaded not guilty on Dec. 7, 2018, and his trial is set to begin on Oct. 29, 2019.

A statement from the VSB said the district was not made aware of his arrest.

"This is extremely troubling," the VSB said. 

Another statement from the provincial ministry of education said its "number one priority is always student safety."

Surprisingly easy

Several community advocates at the news conference praised the police department's crackdown.

"I'd like to see this done repeatedly — and for vulnerable adults," said Larissa Maxwell, director of anti-human trafficking programs at the Salvation Army. "Not all women or men or trans individuals who are engaged in sex work over the age of 18 are experiencing sex exploitation, but some are."

Rankin, who has 31 years of experience, said he was surprised at how easy it was to find targets.

"It wasn't very difficult. What's shocking … is we're looking at potentially hundreds of chat streams that were occurring over the social media platforms with the police officers that were posting as teenage girls. They had to turn down people."

Larissa Maxwell, director of anti-human trafficking programs at the Salvation Army, said she'd like to see more crackdowns targeting sexual predators in the city. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

He said not all men who responded to the ads were interested in underage girls.

"The vast majority of the men that were seeking sex industry workers were looking for adult females, so the vast majority would turn down the offer. What's disconcerting is the small group of men … who discovered the person they were communicating with was underage and were excited about that."

Rankin stressed that no real teenagers were involved in the sting. Photos used in the online ads were composites generated by a computer.

Lawrence Myers, a criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver, said that often in cases where victims are vulnerable, the public can "understandably develop a lynch mob mentality."

"We all know that unless there's [that message] of the presumption of innocence, these people are condemned forever in our community and the community at large," he said.

"I'm very concerned on a lot of levels that we are very careful not to rush to judgment. It's merely an allegation, and that's just one step in a very long process."

With files from Briar Stewart, Tina Lovgreen, and Michelle Ghoussoub