Hamilton

7-year-old made available on Craigslist for sex, police lay multiple charges

Hamilton police have laid dozens of charges linked to a child sexual exploitation ring that involved a seven-year-old girl and her older sister, with the younger sibling being made available online for sexual abuse.

Hamilton police say child's mother and her boyfriend among those charged

Shown are the electronics seized in Project Links, which have helped lead police to nine arrests relating to the multiple assaults of a seven-year-old girl. (Hamilton Police Service)

Hamilton police have laid dozens of charges linked to a child sexual exploitation ring that involved a seven-year-old girl being made available online for sexual abuse and being used for the creation of child pornography.

We believe that these arrests have prevented other children from being sexually assaulted and/or being exposed to imminent dangers.- Hamilton police news release

Police said Thursday that the seven-year-old was being abused by her mother's boyfriend, who also made the girl available for abuse via the online advertising service Craigslist. 

The 34-year-old Hamilton man is facing 40 sexual abuse-related charges. The child's mother has been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life. Images of the seven-year-old were being distributed, said police.

"The sexual assaults of a seven-year-old girl remain a shocking event," Hamilton police Chief Eric Girt said at a news conference. 

"This has been a very difficult investigation," Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella said.

On Thursday morning this panel of police presented their work on Project Links, an investigation that has resulted in nine arrests. All the people charged are from the Hamilton, Niagara or Kitchener/Waterloo regions. (Dave Beatty/CBC)

The six-month investigation also involved Ontario Provincial Police, Niagara Regional Police, Chatham-Kent Police Service and U.S. authorities. In total, nine people have been charged in several different Ontario cities.

The seven year-old's older sister was also a victim of abuse, say police, but there are few details about her situation and who is charged with her abuse.The precise age of the older sister was not given — only that she was between seven and 16.

Because the online solicitation offers were made on the American site Craigslist, Ontario police forces partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which assisted with parts of the investigation outside of Canadian jurisdiction.

The investigation began with information forwarded to police by the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

Project involved multiple agencies

Search warrants were executed in May at a residence where electronic devices were seized. Investigators quickly realized they were dealing with a network of people connected in arranging sexual abuse and distributing child pornography, and they involved other police agencies in their investigation, dubbed Project Links.

To date, that project has executed 14 search warrants and 15 production orders, and has seized more than 100 electronic devices. 

We believe we have investigated, arrested and located everyone who has impacted her.- Det.-Sgt. Dave Dunbar  

Seven other people, from areas including Hamilton, Waterloo and the Niagara Region, have been arrested in Ontario on a host of child exploitation offences. 

Police say they are not releasing the names of most of the accused to protect the identities of the victims.

"We believe that these arrests have prevented other children from being sexually assaulted and/or being exposed to imminent dangers," police said in a press release.

"We believe we have investigated, arrested and located everyone who has impacted her," said Det.-Sgt. Dave Dunbar of the Hamilton police victims of crime branch, referring to the seven-year-old.

But police say they do not know how many other victims there might be.

Geoffrey Burnet was charged in September for incidents alleged to have occurred between January 2007 and December 2008. He was fired from Hamilton's Columbia College on Sept. 20, the day of his arrest. (Hamilton Police Service)

The probe did uncover evidence of historical assaults. A Hamilton man who was arrested in September is the focus of that probe, and police believe there may be other victims.

Geoffrey Burnet, 48, has been a teacher in a number of locations, including Columbia International College in Hamilton, and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

Marnie Jadon of the Catholic board said Burnet was an "occasional teacher" whose employment tenure was from February 2005 until January 2011. He also worked at the Upper Grand District School Board and the Toronto District School Board.

Burnet was charged in September for incidents alleged to have occurred between January 2007 and December 2008.  He was fired from Hamilton's Columbia College on Sept. 20, the day of his arrest.

Burnet was released on a recognizance of bail by the courts, but was charged with additional counts of indecent acts on Oct. 13, after a second alleged former victim contacted detectives.

Hamilton police Det.-Sgt. Dave Dunbar details the sexual assault investigation 1:32

The timeline

  • On May 3, 2016, the Hamilton Catholic Children's Aid Society contacted the Hamilton police about a child abuse case.
  • Detectives interviewed a seven-year-old girl who was alleged being sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend.
  • That same evening, a 34-year-old Hamilton man was arrested and faces 40 charges: nine counts of sexual assault, nine counts of sexual interference, 10 counts of making child pornography, 10 counts of possessing child pornography, and assault and voyeurism
  • The next day, May 4, police executed a search warrant at a Hamilton residence and seized some property.
  • On May 11, police searched the same residence and seized more property including a lot of electronic devices.
  • The investigation revealed that the seven-year-old girl had been assaulted by more than one person, and had been made available for sex on Craigslist.
  • At this point, Hamilton police created Project Links to continue the investigation into more suspects.
  • To this date, Project Links has executed 14 search warrants and 15 production orders, and has seized more than 100 electronic devices.
  • Six additional people have been arrested, with assistance from Niagara Regional Police:
    • A 36-year-old Hamilton man, charged on May 20 with sexual assault, sexual interference and making child pornography.
    • A 50-year-old Hamilton man, charged on July 13 with making child pornography, distributing child pornography and communicating for the purpose of sexual services under 18 years old.
    • A 38-year-old Waterloo man, charged on July 14 with two counts of sexual assault, two counts of sexual interference, two counts of making child pornography and two counts of distributing child pornography.
    • A 48-year-old Waterloo woman, charged on Aug. 9 with sexual assault, sexual interference, making child pornography and possessing child pornography.
    • A 39-year-old Hamilton woman — the seven-year-old's mother — charged on Sept. 21 with failure to provide necessaries of life to a child under 16 years old. 
    • A 52-year-old from St. Catharines charged on Sept. 7 with making agreement or arrangement to commit sexual interference and possession of child pornography.
The Project Links timeline released by Hamilton Police Service. (Hamilton Police Service)

The identities of most of these people are being withheld at present in compliance with a court-ordered publication ban. Police believe there may be more victims in this case.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call Det. Michelle Wiley of the Hamilton Police Service at 905-546-3856, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

Corrections

  • The story has been modified to clarify that police have confirmed only that the seven-year-old was offered online by her abuser, and have not said that the older sister was as well.
    Nov 17, 2016 4:50 PM ET