Police investigators will lose their "foot in the door" in their battle against hardcore child-pornography traffickers if possession of such pornography is decriminalized, a leading Ontario detective warns.
"When you execute a search warrant for simple possession, you uncover evidence of making, evidence of distributing, evidence of other people" involved, said Det. Insp. Bob Matthews, head of the child-pornography division with the Ontario Provincial Police. "Possession is basically our foot in the door."
Insp. Matthews made his comments in light of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling last week that struck down a section of the Criminal Code that makes it illegal to possess child pornography.
In the ruling, Justice Duncan Shaw argued the law is a "profound invasion" of freedom of expression and right of privacy guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Judges in other provinces are not bound by the B.C. decision, although lawyers may cite it as a precedent. If the ruling is upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, which is expected to hear the case, it will become law across the country.
Trafficking in pictures, videos and stories involving children and sex "is skyrocketing", Insp. Matthews said. "We've doubled the size of our unit in the past year, and I would say in terms of the amount of child pornography cases in Ontario or Canada, we're not even scratching the surface."
"There's a tremendous amount of child pornography being distributed."
Formed in 1975, the OPP pornography investigation unit -- dubbed "Project P" and "Project Overcoat" -- has 15 officers covering all of Ontario except Toronto and Ottawa. It is the largest unit in Canada and gets calls for help from as far away as the Northwest Territories.
Material seized so far includes photos and videos of babies, pre-pubescent children, and children in the early stages of puberty involved in virtually every sex act imaginable, said Insp. Matthews.
In some cases, "children are having violence put upon them", he said.
"These are pictures of crimes in progress. They're not drawings and text, as a lot of people would have you believe. These are children who have been violated to the extreme."
Last year, the unit executed 59 search warrants, laid 110 charges, arrested 28 people, and performed 134 investigations. Insp. Matthews says those numbers don't even make a dent in the market for child pornography, and he expects them to double this year.
The ease of distributing pornography on the Internet under a cloak of secrecy has triggered the proliferation, he said, adding, "for pedophiles, it's like heaven has arrived".
And if simple possession of child pornography becomes legal, he added, finding the evidence needed to start an investigation will be extremely difficult.
"Very rarely do we have enough evidence to get a warrant for distributing or making child pornography. That's why possession is so crucial", Insp. Matthews said. "If the law were to be struck down across Canada, the results to units like ours would be devastating, because it would tie our hands completely."
But Frank Addario, the lawyer who defended Toronto artist Eli Langer after Metro Toronto police charged him with possessing child pornography for depicting nude boys in his paintings, says police already have plenty of power to combat child pornography.
The B.C. ruling, he said, has just returned some balance to privacy, freedom of conscience and belief, and taken a bit away from the police.
"The police are still armed with many, many weapons to combat degradation against children", he said.
Current child-pornography laws are too powerful, he said, and allow police to search someone's home based on the smallest scraps of evidence. He said the current laws also restricts artistic freedom.
"All the B.C. judge did was declare possession unconstitutional. He didn't say, 'I'm in favour of the production of child porn.' He didn't say, 'I'm in favour of the abuse of children.' He said, 'This section is unconstitutional.' "
Det. Sgt. Chris Hobson of the Metropolitan Toronto police also said he has seen an increase in the traffic of child pornography. Normally the city's morality squad handles between 12 and 20 cases a year, he said, "but they're increasing with more frequency lately". Of those investigated by his unit, about 50 per cent of the cases start with possession investigations.
Insp. Matthews bristles at arguments that possession is harmless.
"When someone makes a statement that there can't be any harm when a person is sitting in the privacy of their home masturbating to a picture of a child, I say this to those people: let that be your child who has been violated to the extreme."
He adds: "The only way we can truly protect our society -- and our children -- from these types of guys is through sheer fear that if you get caught distributing or being in possession of child pornography, you're going to pay a severe consequence, that there will be jail time."