Manitoba

8 men arrested for arranging meetups with investigators posing as children, Winnipeg police say

Charges will be laid against eight men after they arranged to meet with children for a sexual purpose, Winnipeg police say.

6 also charged with making sexually explicit material available to a child

The eight men who face charges range in age from 20 to 46, police say.

Charges will be laid against eight men after they arranged to meet with children for a sexual purpose, Winnipeg police say.

The men were arrested when they showed up and were greeted by police officers who had been posing as children online, said Sgt. Rick McDougall of the Winnipeg Police Service counter-exploitation unit.

"We represent ourselves as underage individuals," McDougall said at a news conference on Tuesday morning.

"They're very upfront about who they are, how old they are and exactly what they want from these children."

The eight men will be charged with luring children for a sexual purpose, and six will also be charged with making sexually explicit material available to a child.

The men range in age from 20 to 46, with six from Winnipeg, one a Manitoban from outside the city and one from out of province.

The arrests came after investigators spent two weeks in March interacting with people online in what police call Project Hook 2.0.

The first Project Hook ran in June 2018 and led to the arrest of seven men.

Police interacted with 112 people online in March, and 36 stopped contact as soon as an age was established, which McDougall said was a sign that people understand this is unacceptable behaviour.

In cases where arrests were made, contact often progressed from one application to another, and in the six cases where sexually explicit material was shared, it was done in private text messaging, he said.

Investigators worked with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which runs cybertip.ca, a website where people can report inappropriate or criminal behaviour and learn more about how to keep children safe.

"Inappropriate and sexual contact by adults towards youth is a huge problem," said Stephen Sauer, the cybertip.ca director, who joined police at the news conference.

Parents should talk with their children about their online activities, look at the apps they use and become knowledgeable about the sites they're on and they games they play, Sauer said.

Give kids tools

They should also talk to their kids about what is and isn't inappropriate online, he said, and give them tools for dealing with uncomfortable situations.

"Provide them with specific messaging that they can use to stop the communication — direct messaging like, 'I don't want to do that,' or indirect messaging like an excuse, saying, 'My parents check my computer all the time and would ground me if I did that.' "

Kids often get scared and embarrassed and blame themselves for what happens, so it's important that they know they should go to their parents or guardians immediately if they're uncomfortable with online interaction, Sauer said.

Parents who want more information can find it at protectkidsonline.ca and sign up for alerts about emerging trends at cybertip.ca.

If adults see, read or hear anything sexual from an adult towards a child, it should be reported to cybertip.ca or to police, Sauer said.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has an online luring safety sheet for parents who want to keep their children safe.

With files from Bartley Kives

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