Edmonton man facing sex charges exploited about 100 children using Snapchat, investigators say

A 21-year-old Edmonton man charged with sexually abusing children is believed to have victimized upward of 100 girls who have yet to be identified by investigators.

Imesh Ratnayake, 21, committed ‘egregious crimes’ against young girls, police say

Investigators allege the accused used the social media platform Snapchat to lure his victims. (Manan/Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

A 21-year-old Edmonton man charged with sexually abusing children is believed to have victimized upward of 100 girls who have yet to be identified by investigators.

Imesh Ratnayake was originally charged in July in relation to sexual crimes against six children, the youngest of whom was 11 years old. He was later released on conditions. 

Ratnayake is now facing 18 additional child exploitation charges — all related to the six previously identified children — following a months-long investigation by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams' Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit.

Ratnayake was re-arrested on Dec. 9 and remanded in custody. His new charges include sexual assault, making child pornography and child luring. He now faces a total of 31 criminal charges.

Investigators allege he used online profiles on the social media app Snapchat to meet his victims and lure them into performing sexual acts.

The victims identified to date range in age from 11 to 14.

After poring through recently discovered images and videos, investigators now believe upward 100 children were exploited by the accused, Sgt. Kerry Shima of the ICE Unit said during a news conference Wednesday. 

"These victims are unidentified and at this time, we are seeking from the public for assistance in identifying who they are," Shima said.

"We are asking parents in the Edmonton region, the Morinville and St. Albert areas to speak with their kids."

Investigators, including forensic technicians, have examined thousands of videos and images that depict victims of child luring and sexual assault, Shima said. 

"The material that they've gone through is highly explicit. The acts depicted in those videos and photos are egregious crimes against kids and we want to determine who these children are." 

Investigators also want to rule out the possibility that other perpetrators were involved in the crimes depicted in the videos and photographs, Shima said. 

Vapes, marijuana, alcohol used to lure victims

"There is a lot of information that we need to unlock here and we're not able to do it alone." 

Police allege that Ratnayake was able to perpetuate the offences by gaining access to the victim's contacts in Snapchat, in some instances through extortion.

"There was a degree of transactional behaviour involved," Shima said. "Our investigative theory is that Mr. Ratnayake was luring the children using things like vapes, marijuana and alcohol."

Ratnayake used several Snapchat profiles, police said. He may be known to his victims under the user names islandsauce0129, monked.ruffy or by his pseudonym, Matt Wintoni or mattwintoni.

"Releasing his Snapchat handles, it's one of the ways that we're going to be able to identify our victims," Shima said. 

"A lot of the time our victims of luring or online sexual exploitation don't know who is on the other end of those devices or who they're actually communicating with." 

WATCH | Police say Edmonton man used Snapchat to lure children: 

Edmonton man may have victimized more than 100 children: police

3 months ago
Duration 2:06
An Edmonton man accused of sex crimes against children may have more than 100 victims, police say. Imesh Ratnayake was originally arrested in July and is now facing another 18 charges.

Shima said predators posing as young people often use online profiles to make contact with their victims and Ratnayake used the tactic on Snapchat.

The platform is among the most popular social media sites among children and has become one of the most prevalent places where child exploitation occurs online, he said.

"As I've said before, we need parents to be on board with their kids in their applications and start talking about what these apps are used for," Shima said. "Enhancing digital literacy is a really big part of this."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Snapchat said the privacy and safety of users is a priority and the company responds to reports of exploitation as quickly as possible. 

"Exploitation of any kind is unacceptable on our platform — and we routinely work with safety experts and law enforcement to help combat it," the statement said. 

"Snapchat is a visual messaging app designed for communication between real friends, and we intentionally make it very difficult for strangers to find and communicate with minors."

ICE has warned of a rise in child exploitation cases in Alberta. In a statement to CBC, the unit said it is on pace for nearly 3,000 file intakes this year, an increase from the 2,595 files opened the year before. 

Cybersecurity expert David Shipley said the case is part of a growing epidemic of online sexual exploitation of children.

Predators have "universal access" to children in online social media platforms, allowing them unprecedented access to potential victims, he said. 

"This is happening more and more and more and we have to confront this," said Shipley, CEO of New Brunswick-based Beauceron Security Inc.

Shipley said law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep pace with the scale of online exploitation. Protecting children requires improved policing resources, better technology safeguards and improved educational resources, he said. 

"This is not going to be a problem we can solve with technology alone." 

Parents need to have tough conversations with their kids, and younger children should not be allowed unsupervised access to the internet, Shipley said.

"It's a scale issue," he said. "We will never be able to afford enough police to stay on top of this. 

"If we aren't helping our kids, we're leaving them open to a growing army of predators around the world."

The Zebra Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, the Morinville RCMP, K Division general investigation section and the Edmonton Police Service assisted in the investigation, which began in June of this year.

Emmy Stuebing, chief executive officer of the Zebra Centre, said the case is an important reminder of how vulnerable young people can be in online spaces.

She said parents should keep close watch on their children's internet activity. 

"But it's near impossible to watch every moment of every day and we know that," Stuebing said.

"And so, this is such a good reminder for all caregivers to be as diligent as they can in observing and monitoring their children when they're using electronic devices and social media."

Stuebing said child predators will be drawn to any social media platform that's popular with young people. Built-in safeguards can only go so far in protecting potential victims, she said.

"There will always be new platforms coming forward so it's an ongoing duty of caregivers to pay attention to what their kids are doing online and watch for signs of harm," she said.

"And if you do think something is happening, talk to the child."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Julia Wong