Luring pedophiles through fake online ads is not entrapment, Supreme Court of Canada says

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that online police investigations targeting adults looking to have sex with children do not constitute police entrapment.

In a rare 9-0 ruling, the top court dismissed the appeals of four men convicted of child sex offences: Ontario residents Corey Daniel Ramelson, Muhammad Abbas Jaffer, Erhard Haniffa and Temitope Dare.

An investigation by York Regional Police called Project Raphael ran from 2014 to 2017. It involved undercover police officers posing as teenaged escorts on a website they suspected of being a hub for the sexual exploitation of children.

Undercover officers posted ads offering the opportunity to have sex with an 18-year-old girl. Once the fictitious girl agreed to have sex with an individual, the undercover officer posing as the girl would then reveal that she was actually as young as 14.

Those who agreed to continue with the transaction were directed to a hotel room. All 104 men who showed up at the hotel room were arrested.

The men charged ranged in age from 18 to 71. Many of the men were married and they came from a range of professional backgrounds. Nearly all of the men were first-time offenders.

This investigation was the first in Ontario to target sex offenders by setting up fake ads meant to lure offenders. The issue at the heart of the case was whether this type of investigation qualifies as entrapment.

Entrapment is when the state or police induce someone to commit a crime they would not otherwise have committed.

The ruling said that to be considered a bona fide investigation, police must have “reasonable suspicion over a sufficiently precise space” that criminal offences are taking place and police actions are being taken in an effort to “repress crime.”

The ruling said careful consideration is important because online investigations like Project Raphael are broad and could lead to a “profound invasion into people’s lives.”

“Given the potential of online investigations to impact many more individuals than an equivalent investigation in a physical space, the nature of those impacts deserve scrutiny,” the ruling said. “How the police act on the Internet may matter as much or more as where they act.”

Targeting “Backpage dot com”

The ruling said that York Regional Police based their investigation on a similar probe in British Columbia which involved undercover police placing ads on Craigslist.

York Regional Police Inspector Thai Truong told the court that investigations like the one in B.C. were used as inspiration because “unless you really look for [child exploitation], you’re not going to find it.”

The ruling says that through investigations and interviews with dozens of underage sex workers, the York Regional Police learned that there was “a pervasive problem stemming from a particular type of online ad” on a subdirectory of “Backpage dot com” and decided to target that website.

The ruling said that the website appeared to be “an active hub of crime” and that specific posts advertising the youngest sex workers appeared there daily.

The ads police placed on the website were designed to emulate ads already on the site by borrowing common terms such as “tight,” “young,” “new” or “fresh” when describing the children being offered, the court said.

“This, in my view, amply showed the reasonable possibility that the offence was occurring in the space. Indeed, it suggested that the offence was occurring regularly,” Justice Andromache Karakatsanis said in the court’s decision.

“If the [York Regional Police] were to address offences related to juvenile sex work, ads in the York Region escort subdirectory of Backpage for the youngest sex workers were places to do so.”

The court decided that Project Raphael was a genuine police inquiry because of the substantial evidence pointing to the website and because the offences were “rationally connected and proportionate to each other.”

Privacy concerns

The court made its decision using Ramelson as the test case, with the verdicts for the other three offenders following on the precedent set in Ramelson. Decisions in all four cases were released Thursday.

In their submission to the court, Ramelson’s lawyer said that while their client “failed the virtue test,” police “were not entitled to test the applicant in the manner that they did.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which intervened in the case, argued that the case raises serious privacy concerns about Canadians being targeted by the state.

It said there was evidence to suggest children were being offered for abuse on more popular platforms such as Yahoo and Facebook and that broad investigations like Truong’s could ensnare innocent Canadians, compromising their personal information.

“Investigations that have no pre-identified target present the greatest risk of becoming roaming and unfocused inquisitions that compromise the privacy of online users,” the CCLA said.

In the court’s ruling, Justice Karakatsanis said that police must innovate if they are to match the “ingenuity” of criminals.

“These realities entitle the police to ‘considerable latitude’ in their investigations … such that a finding of entrapment should issue only in the ‘clearest of cases,’” she said.

The moral of the story: don’t try to screw with kids, because it’s wrong and illegal. Simple enough.

2 Likes

I don’t really have an issue with that tactic, tbh. I’d rather police do it than vigilantes, and I question whether you can actually consider someone guilty of a crime since they were never actually talking to a child, but the tactic itself isn’t a problem in my eyes. People shouldn’t be meeting up with kids they met online in a sexual context.

5 Likes

Agreed. It’s hard to feel bad for these people when they see a fake ad online and think it’s a good idea to meet up with a minor, whether or not the person actually is one.

Did they not question whether the person they were interacting with online actually is a minor? Did it not occur to them that the person could be lying about their age?

I guess not, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten themselves arrested.

2 Likes

Agreed to all that. Might be questionable for the police to use that tactic from a legal standpoint (even though the judge said it was kosher), but it works.

2 Likes

I have no issue with Police doing this as well, as long as they’re not egging the person on to break the law then arresting them (which is what entrapment is).

4 Likes

Or perhaps it occurred to them but their lack of self-control still overtook their reasoning.

2 Likes

The problem is they’re not catching “child predators”. They’re catching lonely people (also possibly horny people).

One of the quotes from the article is literally “Undercover officers posted ads offering the opportunity to have sex with an 18-year-old girl. Once the fictitious girl agreed to have sex with an individual, the undercover officer posing as the girl would then reveal that she was actually as young as 14.”

Why are you advertising yourself as 18-years-old (a legal adult) if you’re supposedly trying to catch child predators? (Because they’re not trying to catch child predators. At best they’re trying to catch lonely people, at worst this is a “sex trafficking sting” for good press appearances (which leads to more money for police)

I have no sympathy for these stings whether done by police or vigilantes. Mostly because they’re not targeting child predators, they’re targeting lonely people. Also, a key thing to note is that they typically use dating sites (cough which are for adults onlycough). Which just further proves that this has nothing to do with child predators. You’re not going to find child predators in places used by adults (like dating sites/apps). You’re going to find child predators in…whatever place kids hang out at (roblox, fornite, stuff like that…)

(Also, possible personal bias as a lonely autistic person. I’m not particularly thrilled with the idea of lonely adults looking for other adults being targeted and manipulated)

10 Likes

If the goal is to apprehend the men who were using these services to abuse minors, then I’d have pause about whether these methods are truly meeting that ends. From the description here, they’re putting out ads saying “hey, I’m a sexually available 18 year old,” and then from there “filtering” respondents by changing the age to 14 years old. Most of the men they captured were first-time offenders. What seems more likely in this scenario:

A) Serial child abusers are seeing these ads for an 18 year old, contacting them either in hopes they’re actually minors or because they realize they’re truly minors beforehand, and then show up to a sting at a hotel room provided by the 14 year old; or

B) Desperate men are seeing an invitation for easy sex and then when they find out that this sexual liaison being dangled over their heads is with someone who is only a year or two removed from most age of consent statutes, they’re still desperate or disconnected enough to follow through anyways.

There’s a difference between the envisioned scumbag prowling the internet and going after children that these stings supposedly target and the emotionally disturbed men who are persuaded and induced by professional law enforcement into tempting fate by accepting these decoy’s offers. Some men are lost in this world and they’re not out there to prey upon minors; they’re miserably staring at a screen, hoping they can find someone to fulfill their degenerative desires. This method is good at locating those men, ones who’d benefit more from psychiatric help and finding purpose and self-worth in life. They don’t need to be sent to prison, labelled child predators, traumatized behind bars for years, and then spit back out on some “evil monster” list. It’s staggeringly misguided.

7 Likes

Exactly. Fuck stings. All shit like this amounts to is putting alcohol in front of alcoholics and just fucking waiting, and then punishing people for taking the bait. Look, grooming/raping ANYBODY, let alone children, is deeply, incredibly traumatizing and damaging. But we need to focus on prevention, not just for sex crimes but ALL crimes! These people caught in sex crime stings will have their names and faces in the papers, their lives will be irreversibly ruined. We say “fuck rehabilitation, fuck redemption, hope you get raped and murdered in gen pop, get shamed and dunked on by your neighbors”.

Entire communities have banded together to vandalize and burn down registered sex offenders’ houses and make these people fucking homeless because they didn’t want a sex criminal living in their neighborhood. But you wanna know something? That shit’s just gonna dehumanize a person to the point of not giving a shit anymore and almost certainly reoffending (or turning to petty crime/joining a gang to survive, or ODing on hardcore drugs, or just committing fucking suicide)! There’re tent cities established by homeless sex offenders because they’re ordered to live at least x amount of miles away from all parks, schools, etc., leaving them nowhere else to live but literally under bridges on the outskirts of town.

Sorry, I just feel very passionately about stings, especially in the wake of recent “no-knock” controversies surrounding bystanders like Breonna Taylor getting shot to shit by the cops. Also, I was just awake for over 30 hours and then slept for over 30 hours. I feel like shit right now, so that’s why I’m especially crabby and delirious at the moment…

5 Likes

I agree with most of the critiques of this specific operation, but this is an issue with the justice system, not with the sting itself

2 Likes

I’ll never forget the thing that convinced me that we need to get rid of the sex offense registry (other than the data that shows that it’s useless and does nothing), was hearing about two 10-year-old boys that are on the registry that had guns pointed in their face by a vigilante, or the man that got killed by a vigilante because the address he was living at was on the registry because of a previous resident that lived there before him. Fuck the registry. It makes the world LESS SAFE, not more safe.

6 Likes

Since Canadian law doesn’t differentiate between real CSAM and “animated child pornography”, you could be put on the sex offender registry for looking at a drawing.

It almost happened to one person, an American citizen who was just visiting Canada, if the criminal charges hadn’t been dropped:

Here’s a paragraph from the article:

Aside from the way Matheson was treated, CBLDF director Charles Brownstein raised the question of whether possession of images such as the 48 positions or another parody manga page found on Matheson’s computer should be prosecutable at all. “While these images are unquestionably adult in nature, it is baffling how anyone can view them and define them as depictions of child sex abuse,” Brownstein told CBR. “It underscores the profound injustice of prosecuting people under child pornography laws for possession of comic book art. Art is subjective, and its merit lies in the eye of the beholder. Child pornography is objectively and indisputably photographic evidence of a crime where a real person was abused. Those two categories should not be blurred. Some have suggested that it’s okay to prosecute people for possession of lolicon, hentai or other extreme comics genres, but the problem is that allowing for those exceptions is to create precedent that allows for what happened to Ryan to become more widespread. When you start allowing the law to treat art like evidence of a crime, you create the potential for officials to wrongly interpret constitutionally protected speech as criminal evidence, and to harm innocent people the way Ryan was harmed. This does nothing to protect real victims of sex crimes, it only hurts innocent people and damages the culture of free expression.”

1 Like

The numbers alone are concerning:

It would be interesting to know how many people they charged grouped by age. However, we know that at least one person was 18.

So they charged an 18-year-old teenager, trying to hook up with another 18-year-old teenager who then turned out to be younger than she claimed. How much younger exactly? Well “as young as 14” could basically be anything between 14 and 17 (inclusive). So it could very well be that they charged that boy* for trying to hook up with a girl not even a year younger than he was.

That may be technically illegal. But is it worth ruining the life of a young adult and treating him like the worst kind of criminal on earth, when there is not even a real victim nor anyone who got hurt?


* BTW, did you notice that they labelled the 18-year-old “victim” as a “girl”, why calling the also 18-year-old “offender” a “man”?

8 Likes

18 and 15 isn’t much of a difference. Both could still be in HS and date. It was dumb to target the 18 year old(s).

3 Likes

I’m of the position that it’s not entrapment because there’s still intent on the predator’s side to perpetrate a sexual offense against a minor, i.e. they went online with that purpose in mind.

My only concern is that these laws might be misused to target individuals who are merely looking to roleplay with other adults or share artwork. If that “are you an adult? I will not do this with a person who is actually a minor” is not stated and understood, then the idea of entrapment cannot be sufficed.

2 Likes

the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” - J.R.R Tolkien

All the parties in this case from the officers to the prosecutor could have exercised discretion and not pursued this. Not that “ i’m just doing my job“, is any sort of excuse, but in this case there wouldn’t even have been any conflict whatsoever between letting this man go on his way and doing their job. These people are vile, reprehensible, and disgustingly self righteous in their zeal to hurt real people over their fictional predilections.

4 Likes

I have to agree with Joshua, Nuclear, and Giacobbe on this topic.
Luring people into potentially committing a crime is the very definition of entrapment, and I am not a fan of justice systems breaking their own rules just because a fictional child is involved.
If you are going to destroy a person’s life, there better be a real crime with a real victim involved.

5 Likes

I agree with this, but I don’t think the solution is to stop viewing the intent to solicit sex from a child as a crime. People who do that generally pose at least some level of risk, and that should be addressed. The major issue here isn’t how these people are being identified (though there are some separate issues there, which others have pointed out), but rather the fact that our current justice system exists to punish the “guilty” rather than protect the public. In a reasonable system, people who had never actually harmed a child but proven themselves to be at risk of doing so would be given support in the form of therapy, support groups, and access to other services to help them reduce that risk.

The more I research it, the more prison abolition and rehabilitation over punishment seem to be the solution to almost all the problems with our legal and justice systems. Non-carceral approaches work, and they almost always work better than locking people up.

3 Likes

If people aren’t willing to abolish prisons, then perhaps we should get some inspiration from Norway:

This is an inmate on Bastoy prison island in Norway, sunbathing on the deck of his bungalow:

image

This is a prisoner’s bedroom at Halden Prison in Norway (looks like a hotel room, doesn’t it?):

image

Unrelated to this, but note that Norway treats lolicon in a similar way that the US does: https://lovdata.no/NLE/lov/2005-05-20-28/§311

From Wikipedia:

Child pornography and possession is illegal in Norway per Section 311 of the penal code. While fictional forms are also possibly covered as “a depiction which sexualises children”, the law makes an exception for works deemed to be artistic, scientific, and/or informational.

While Norway acknowledges that lolicon isn’t the same as actual CSAM, because no real children are involved, it can still be prosecuted.

From Wikipedia:

The drawings show children in various sexual positions and abuse situations. The Court of Appeal notes that such drawings are not as serious as films, or photographs of living people. This is because the drawings are not the product of actual abuse. The drawings nevertheless help to “normalize” and underpin the industry of child sexual abuse, and for that reason is also a serious offence.

At least lolicon is legal in other countries, like Denmark, Finland and Germany.

Netherlands also allows lolicon, but, in 2020, the Internet Watch Foundation stated that 71% of CSAM found in Europe was hosted in the Netherlands: Increased amount of child sexual abuse material detected in Europe

2 Likes