Project Spade

In­side the in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to take down Canada’s largest child pornog­ra­phy ring

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Robert Kolker

The toronto po­lice ser­vice’s Child Ex­ploita­tion Sec­tion (CES ) is lo­cated on the third floor of po­lice head­quar­ters, a mod­ern brown build­ing in the city’s down­town. Six­teen of­fi­cers work there, crammed into a flu­o­res­cent-lit, open­plan of­fice. Like their coun­ter­parts at sim­i­lar agen­cies around the world, the of­fi­cers en­gage in ac­tiv­i­ties that most other cops find hard to stom­ach, spend­ing hours each day search­ing the web for sources of sex­u­ally ex­plicit pho­tos and videos of chil­dren. Some work un­der­cover pos­ing as pe­dophiles, win­ning en­try into pri­vate, se­cure peerto-peer net­works, where they can catch sus­pects shar­ing their col­lec­tions of pho­tos and videos. Oth­ers are ex­perts in im­age anal­y­sis, cat­a­logu­ing and study­ing each new pic­ture or video that is found in hopes of trac­ing it to its source. Mem­bers of the pub­lic aren’t al­lowed in­side the of­fice, and the na­ture of the work at­tracts few vis­i­tors.

One af­ter­noon in Oc­to­ber 2010, de­tec­tive Lisa Be­langer was sit­ting at her desk when her su­per­vi­sor, Paul Krawczyk, walked past to grab a print­out. Krawczyk — tall, with the slen­der, broad-shoul­dered build of a com­pet­i­tive cy­clist—was run­ning a search on the IP ad­dress of an anony­mous col­lec­tor he had met work­ing un­der­cover in an en­crypted on­line com­mu­nity. He had spent months gain­ing the con­fi­dence of this par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tor be­fore the man fi­nally agreed to share some of his im­ages and videos. Krawczyk was star­tled by the vol­ume: ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 me­dia files, many of them de­pict­ing the sex­ual abuse of young boys. He ex­pected the trace to lead nowhere; many col­lec­tors of child pornog­ra­phy are adept at scram­bling their IP ad­dresses. But the name — Brian Way — was real. Way hap­pened to be a res­i­dent of Toronto’s west end; he was in his late thir­ties, sin­gle, and, ev­i­dently, an en­tre­pre­neur. He had a com­pany named Azov Films. “Do you want me to start look­ing into it?” Be­langer asked. Be­langer is pale and petite, with dark hair and a steady gaze. She joined the CES in 2009, when she was thirty-four years old; by then, she had been on the force for nine years, was mar­ried to a fel­low de­tec­tive, and had two young chil­dren. “They asked me how I thought I would do with child pornog­ra­phy,” she told me, “and I said I had no idea.” Be­langer was the first per­son in her fam­ily to be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer. She stud­ied phi­los­o­phy at the Univer­sity of Toronto. The de­gree “helped me to have a big pic­ture of life in gen­eral,” she said. “When you’re do­ing your job, you’re not bring­ing a lot of pre­con­ceived no­tions.” She be­came a CES de­tec­tive con­sta­ble, con­duct­ing in­ven­to­ries of the ma­te­rial found on the com­put­ers of sus­pects af­ter their ar­rests, shap­ing the cases, and shep­herd­ing them through the courts. Delv­ing into the hard drives of pe­dophiles, she found that she had a rare abil­ity to wall off her per­sonal life from what she was see­ing on­screen. “I never found a video or an im­age that kept me up at night,” she said. Still, she added, “The videos are worse than the pic­tures. The less I need to see of the video, the bet­ter.” The typ­i­cal Azov Films pro­duc­tion, as Be­langer soon dis­cov­ered, in­volved boys, most of them be­tween the ages of eleven and thir­teen, frol­ick­ing and ex­plor­ing the beaches, back­yards, and base­ment play­rooms of small East­ern Euro­pean towns along the Black Sea. There was lit­tle di­a­logue and no plot. Some­times the boys rode around in cars; some­times they went camp­ing; some­times they played cow­boys and In­di­ans or roller skated or went for a swim. The videos pur­ported to doc­u­ment “na­tur­ist,” or nud­ist, cul­ture. In some of the videos, the boys were fleet­ingly naked. The on­screen ac­tion stopped short of any­thing ex­plic­itly sex­ual, but the ti­tles — Beach Bums, Sandy Bot­toms, Bikes & Back­strokes — sug­gested more. The Azov Films web­site de­clared, “No film we sell vi­o­lates Cana­dian or Amer­i­can law.” It was the sort of disclaimer, Be­langer thought, that dou­bled as an ad­ver­tise­ment.

In the late 1990s, Thomas and Janice Reedy, a cou­ple from Texas, made a for­tune cre­at­ing what most law en­force­ment of­fi­cials con­sider the first com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful in­ter­net pornog­ra­phy busi­ness. Land­slide, as it was called, was a por­tal through which, with a sim­ple credit card pay­ment, cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers could meet and do busi­ness on more than 5,000 dif­fer­ent pornog­ra­phy web­sites. The most lu­cra­tive va­ri­ety of porn proved to be child pornog­ra­phy — a genre that was looked down upon in tra­di­tional porn cir­cles but was tai­lor-made, it seemed, for the anonymity of the web. Over two years, the child pornog­ra­phy sites within Land­slide brought its own­ers more than $1 mil­lion from 100,000 cus­tomers.

But the Reedys, who were ar­rested in 1999, were merely the match­mak­ers, not the pornog­ra­phers. To­day, in­ter­net child pornog­ra­phy has grown into a mar­ket with a value be­tween $3 and $20 bil­lion, and the po­lice who in­ves­ti­gate on­line child ex­ploita­tion have been play­ing a long game of catch-up. One of the com­put­ers seized from Land­slide yielded a cus­tomer data­base with 100,000 names, ad­dresses, email ad­dresses, and credit card num­bers. These led, in 2001, to a sting called Op­er­a­tion Avalanche, which re­sulted in the ar­rest of more than 100 child sex of­fend­ers and pornog­ra­phers. In 2009, dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Joint Ham­mer, the FBI ar­rested more than sixty Amer­i­cans and res­cued four­teen girls — some as young as three years old — from abuse. In the years that fol­lowed, those cases led to the ar­rest of twen­tytwo oth­ers in Op­er­a­tion Nest Egg. It’s an ax­iom of the field that each suc­cess­ful child porn case un­earths a new moth­er­lode of leads — and makes col­lec­tors more cau­tious. On­line col­lec­tors and pro­duc­ers are of­ten ex­perts at en­cryp­tion, and they have grown adept at de­fend­ing their ac­tions through free-ex­pres­sion laws. The Toronto CES es­ti­mates that, at any given mo­ment, thou­sands of IPS in Toronto are of­fer­ing im­ages of ex­ploited chil­dren — though child pornog­ra­phy cases are the least likely to re­sult in con­vic­tion.

Af­ter its founding in 2000, the CES quickly earned a rep­u­ta­tion for in­no­va­tion, and for go­ing af­ter wide-reach­ing cases in­volv­ing ma­jor pro­duc­ers and di­rect abusers. “I could sit there and down­load child pornog­ra­phy all day and make ar­rests all day, but it’s kind of low-hang­ing fruit,” said Emily Vacher, a for­mer FBI agent who worked on the agency’s In­no­cent Im­ages Na­tional Ini­tia­tive and helped train Toronto’s first CES detectives. “In­toronto, they don’t just want the deal­ers on the cor­ner — they want the sup­pli­ers, be­cause they’re di­rectly abus­ing chil­dren.” In 2003, Wil­liam Mcgarry, a CES vic­tim iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of­fi­cer, helped crack a no­to­ri­ous case in­volv­ing 400 pic­tures of a girl who had been caged and abused by her fa­ther in a sub­urb of North Carolina; Mcgarry has a tat­too on his arm that reads “Ev­ery Child Mat­ters.” In 2005, Paul Krawczyk, then an un­der­cover de­tec­tive, as­sumed the iden­tity of the ad­min­is­tra­tor of an en­crypted peertofile-shar­ing net­work and im­per­son­ated him for nearly six weeks, gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion that led to dozens of ar­rests in sev­eral coun­tries. “I find we have the most re­ward­ing job,” Krawczyk told me. “You go bust a drug dealer, and you might see him a week later. But to be able to ac­tu­ally save a child from abuse, you know you have made a dif­fer­ence.”

Many of Be­langer’s cases have sug­gested a link be­tween thought and ac­tion.

Each suc­cess­ful child porn case un­earths a new moth­er­lode of leads—and makes col­lec­tors more cau­tious.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2005 anal­y­sis of ar­rest records by the Crimes against Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire, in one of ev­ery six in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing the own­er­ship of child pornog­ra­phy im­ages, the of­fend­ing persons have also di­rectly sex­u­ally abused or as­saulted chil­dren. And so in 2010, when Krawczyk directed Be­langer’s at­ten­tion to Azov Films, she im­me­di­ately un­der­stood the op­por­tu­nity it pre­sented. So many child pornog­ra­phers thrive un­de­tected, but Brian Way was in her own city, run­ning a seem­ingly le­gal video com­pany out in the open without en­cryp­tion, aliases, or anonymity. As a tar­get, Way was ir­re­sistible, but so was Azov Films. Be­langer wanted to help the boys in the films and ar­rest the pro­duc­ers, but she also knew that Azov’s sales records could pro­vide the names, ad­dresses, and credit card num­bers of hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, of cus­tomers — some of whom might be di­rectly abus­ing chil­dren. Why lock up just one porn trader when they could shut down an en­tire cot­tage in­dus­try?

But there was a prob­lem. Glanc­ing at the po­lice files, Be­langer and Krawczyk dis­cov­ered that four years ear­lier, in 2006, the CES had in­ves­ti­gated Azov Films but filed no crim­i­nal charges. At the time, the com­pany sold on­line videos that seemed to fall into a pro­tected cat­e­gory of speech. Like all pornog­ra­phy, child porn has proven dif­fi­cult for law­mak­ers and the courts to de­fine. The most ex­plicit sex­ual im­ages aren’t in ques­tion; the grey area in­volves im­ages of nude chil­dren, of­ten pubescent, that are sex­ual only by con­text. Sec­tion 163.1 of the Cana­dian Crim­i­nal Code de­fines child pornog­ra­phy, in part, as any visual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “ex­plicit sex­ual ac­tiv­ity” or “the de­pic­tion, for a sex­ual pur­pose, of a sex­ual or­gan or the anal re­gion of a per­son un­der the age of eigh­teen years.” The United States statute sim­i­larly in­cludes in its def­i­ni­tion of child porn the “las­civ­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tion of the gen­i­tals or pu­bic area of any per­son.” By spec­i­fy­ing a “sex­ual pur­pose,” the law pro­tects high-minded free ex­pres­sion — such as the pho­tog­ra­phy of Sally Mann, whose work fea­tures child nudes and who has been ac­cused of ex­ploit­ing chil­dren — even as, at the lower end of the mar­ket, it leaves room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Azov Films was hardly the first com­pany to ex­ploit this grey area, though it was the first to have re­al­ized its po­ten­tial on the in­ter­net. Mail-or­der busi­nesses sell­ing “na­tur­ist” films — fea­tur­ing young boys, of­ten without cloth­ing, in nat­u­ral set­tings — al­ready ex­isted, and re­mained le­gal by show­ing only nu­dity and no sex­ual acts. When Way turned out to be a vo­ra­cious col­lec­tor of child porn, how­ever, Be­langer be­gan to ques­tion whether his com­pany’s films re­ally de­served le­gal pro­tec­tion. The law spec­i­fied a “sex­ual pur­pose” as the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of child pornog­ra­phy, but did that have to mean ex­plicit sex? Read an­other way, Be­langer thought, the statute surely could mean that a “sex­ual pur­pose” could ap­ply to any im­age at all that com­mon sense sug­gested had no rea­son — other than a sex­ual one — to be on film. This le­gal ar­gu­ment was qui­etly rad­i­cal; as far as Be­langer knew, no one in law en­force­ment had ever tried it. It also raised a provoca­tive ques­tion: Could cus­tomers be ar­rested for view­ing ma­te­rial that many be­lieved was en­tirely le­gal?

Had the CES detectives been go­ing af­ter Way only for his per­sonal col­lec­tion, they would have raided his home right away. But they wanted to go af­ter his busi­ness, his film­mak­ers, and his cus­tomers, too; to get them, they needed more ev­i­dence. “We didn’t want to go to court and have them say, ‘Ev­ery­thing you seized, you don’t get it be­cause you didn’t have enough grounds,’” Be­langer said. (Way’s per­sonal ac­tiv­i­ties as a col­lec­tor of abu­sive im­ages and videos of­fered no in­di­ca­tion that he had ac­cess to chil­dren or that he was abus­ing chil­dren di­rectly, so the CES felt safe in de­lay­ing his ar­rest.) While Krawczyk ex­am­ined the hard­core im­ages in Way’s per­sonal server, Be­langer launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the com­pany’s ac­tiv­i­ties and films.

In Novem­ber 2010, Be­langer put to­gether a team to stake out the en­trance of Azov Films, which was lo­cated in a ware­house build­ing on the Queensway, a ma­jor thor­ough­fare in Toronto’s west end. Sur­veil­lance yielded the same sight al­most ev­ery morn­ing: Way, paunchy and stout, car­ry­ing a break­fast from Tim Hor­tons. He brought no lap­top, or any­thing else from home that might eas­ily link his busi­ness to his per­sonal col­lec­tion. Trucks rolled in and out of the of­fice garage through­out the day. The DVD s, it turned out, were shipped by a third-party bro­ker, which had been told that the prod­ucts were sports doc­u­men­taries from a com­pany named 4p5p. When ques­tioned later, em­ploy­ees said they had never heard of Azov Films. Be­langer then asked the as­sets and for­fei­ture unit to run a re­port on the com­pany. It showed al­most $2 mil­lion in in­come in the past two years. Afi­ciona­dos of na­tur­ism couldn’t gen­er­ate that sort of rev­enue, Be­langer thought. But an au­di­ence seek­ing sex­u­ally laden imagery might.

Be­langer could visit the Azov Films web­site only so many times; if Way was mon­i­tor­ing the IP ad­dresses of the site’s vis­i­tors — and she later learned he was — her pres­ence would be con­spic­u­ous. Be­langer and Krawczyk ar­ranged for an Amer­i­can coun­ter­part, Brian Bone of the US Postal In­spec­tion Ser­vice, to or­der ten DVD s and have them shipped to a safe lo­ca­tion in the US, where they could be shared with the CES , se­curely and on­line. Then she watched them, not­ing ev­ery mo­ment that could be said to serve a “sex­ual pur­pose.” All the videos con­tained nu­dity. In one, a child takes fif­teen show­ers; in an­other, staged in a sauna, nude chil­dren sit around on couches and eat food. Each film be­gan with the same scrolling text: “Na­tur­ism has been around since the dawn of time. The free­dom of be­ing ‘one with na­ture’ is a healthy pastime in many Euro­pean cul­tures.”

Be­langer was pre­pared to ar­gue to a judge that five of the ten videos she had watched fit her read­ing of the law. In her view, it would take only one tainted video to ex­pose the hun­dreds in the Azov Films cat­a­logue as porno­graphic. “You say, ‘This one film’s bor­der­line, and this one’s not bor­der­line,’” Be­langer said. “But it’s all the same kids, right? So it sex­u­al­izes the whole col­lec­tion.” That rea­son­ing turned out to be con­vinc­ing enough that a judge granted the CES a war­rant to go af­ter not just Way, but also Azov Films and its cus­tomer records.

On the morn­ing of May 1, 2011, Way was ar­rested as he left the of­fice for his usual cof­fee-and-bagel run. The op­er­a­tional plan for the raid was thirty pages long and in­volved the tightly chore­ographed move­ments of thirty of­fi­cers. To pre­vent any of Way’s as­so­ci­ates from shut­ting down ac­cess to the servers, the detectives hit ev­ery pos­si­ble lo­ca­tion at once — Way’s home, of­fice, post of­fice boxes, safety de­posit boxes, and car. Over the next few days, they gath­ered forty-five ter­abytes of videos, pho­tos, emails, and other cor­po­rate data — ev­ery­thing but the records from the cus­tomer chat room. (The server for the chat room was lo­cated in Swe­den; by the time the po­lice learned about it, it was un­re­cov­er­able.) They did find the com­pany’s cus­tomer records, plus thou­sands of hours of video in the Azov Films ar­chive and an­other 10,000 videos from Way’s per­sonal col­lec­tion. It was the largest seizure of such ma­te­rial in Cana­dian his­tory.

The records of­fered Be­langer ev­ery­thing she’d hoped for: more than 10,000 cus­tomer names and ad­dresses from some ninety coun­tries. Al­though many may have been un­der the im­pres­sion that their view­ing ac­tiv­ity was in­no­cent, Be­langer be­lieved that all of them were par­tic­i­pat­ing in child ex­ploita­tion and that some might also be en­gaged in ac­tual abuse. To prove this, not just to au­thor­i­ties in Canada but also to those in the ju­ris­dic­tions around the world where the cus­tomers lived, Be­langer needed to make her case one video at a time. With a team of eight col­leagues, she set up a com­mand cen­tre in a con­fer­ence room off-site. While Way re­mained in cus­tody, Be­langer and her team watched as many of the films as pos­si­ble, not­ing down ex­actly what in each film con­sti­tuted a “sex­ual pur­pose.”

It would have taken more than a year to watch ev­ery avail­able sec­ond of ev­ery video; she de­cided that 500 movies, in six months, would be enough. A white­board dis­played the names and pic­tures of the boys, their lo­ca­tions, and who was film­ing them. Be­langer was deeply af­fected by what she saw; she felt as if she were watch­ing the chil­dren grow up on­screen. “They’d be eleven, and then thir­teen, and then fif­teen,” she said. “These boys will never have a nor­mal life. How many thou­sands of peo­ple have these movies, have seen these boys?”

Be­langer flagged 176 Azov Films videos as porno­graphic, based on her read­ing of the law. She spent an­other six months comb­ing through the com­pany’s records, search­ing for any­thing else that con­firmed that chil­dren were be­ing ex­ploited. Way’s emails re­vealed him as a man con­sumed by his ca­reer. He had started out as atele­vi­sion cam­era­man for CTV and Al­liance At­lantis be­fore turn­ing to copy­ing and sell­ing “com­ing of age” films — in­clud­ing na­tur­ist ones — fea­tur­ing young boys. When his ri­vals ac­cused him of piracy, he did them one bet­ter and be­came a pro­ducer of orig­i­nal films. By 2008, the web­site was draw­ing more than 1 mil­lion vis­i­tors per year. Way han­dled ev­ery sale him­self, run­ning all credit card pur­chases and spot-check­ing them against the IP ad­dresses to mon­i­tor for sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity. The Azov Films site en­cour­aged cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tion, of­fer­ing Face­book-style pro­files of the boys that in­cluded birthdays, hob­bies, and in­ter­ests, and pro­vid­ing a com­ments area that be­came filled with ador­ing posts. When cus­tomers be­gan voic­ing reser­va­tions about any spe­cific boy — “He’s be­com­ing too old, and they’re not into that,” Be­langer said — she would no­tice that in videos made around the same time, the boy would wran­gle younger ones into view and then slip out of the frame.

Way seemed to spend much of his time email­ing his film­mak­ers, among them Igor Ru­sanov and An­drey Ivanov, both from Ukraine, and Markus Roth, based in Ro­ma­nia. Each had a reg­u­lar ros­ter of boys and had earned a po­si­tion of trust in his re­spec­tive com­mu­nity, which al­lowed him con­sid­er­able time alone with them. Like Fa­gin with the Art­ful Dodger in Oliver Twist, each had se­cured the loy­alty of one main boy who would re­cruit oth­ers and help them feel com­fort­able be­ing pho­tographed — clothed at first, and then not. Way told the film­mak­ers which boys to fea­ture next, and they shared with him their day-to-day trou­bles: which boy couldn’t make it to a film shoot, which boy’s par­ents were get­ting sus­pi­cious.

Of­ten, Way main­tained that he could jus­tify his busi­ness to au­thor­i­ties. “There is so much porn out there right now, but I feel the po­lice won’t even lift a fin­ger un­less there’s some­thing overtly sex­ual,” he wrote to a fel­low dis­trib­u­tor in 2007. “Child erot­ica is not il­le­gal, thus I am not in jail.”

Be­langer handed all of her ev­i­dence and cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion over to the ap­pro­pri­ate ju­ris­dic­tions, which then had to de­cide whether Canada’s read­ing of its child porn statute would ap­ply in their le­gal sys­tems. The US, Greece, Ger­many, Is­rael, Mex­ico, South Africa, Spain, Nor­way, Ire­land, Hong Kong, Aus­tralia,

Many of the cus­tomers ar­rested oc­cu­pied po­si­tions of au­thor­ity and trust: forty teach­ers, six mem­bers of law en­force­ment, nine cler­gy­men.

and Gibraltar all co-op­er­ated; few ju­ris­dic­tions in Europe, Asia, and South Amer­ica, though, had sim­i­lar statutes. The United King­dom did not re­spond to of­fi­cers un­til af­ter the Toronto po­lice went pub­lic with the first wave of ar­rests.

On Novem­ber 14, 2013, the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice held a widely cov­ered press con­fer­ence to an­nounce the re­sults of its three-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Azov Films. The probe was called Project Spade, to sug­gest that it would dig deep. The po­lice an­nounced that all of Way’s film­mak­ers had been ar­rested in their home coun­tries dur­ing the com­pany’s wan­ing months. Markus Roth was said to have re­cruited as many as 200 boys over sev­eral years. “He knew how to get un­der your skin and make you feel safe,” one boy’s mother told a re­porter from the Toronto Star. “He was play­ing a kind of Robin Hood in our vil­lage.” It was re­ported that Igor Ru­sanov was charged with film­ing and sell­ing child porn. In 2010, Roth pleaded guilty to film­ing and pos­sess­ing child pornog­ra­phy.

But Project Spade was even more suc­cess­ful in its pur­suit of the com­pany’s cus­tomers. It ini­tially re­sulted in the ar­rest of 348 peo­ple in ninety coun­tries — as a di­rect con­se­quence, the detectives an­nounced, 386 chil­dren, not count­ing the dozens of East­ern Euro­pean boys who had ap­peared in the videos, had been re­moved from harm­ful sit­u­a­tions. “These were ac­tual vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence or of the pro­duc­tion of child pornog­ra­phy,” Bone told me. He has pur­sued sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions in the US based on leads from the Azov Films cus­tomer list. “I’d take the amount of ar­rests and vic­tims iden­ti­fied against pretty much any op­er­a­tion that’s taken place in the last ten or fif­teen years.”

The op­er­a­tion vin­di­cated the no­tion that ar­rest­ing sus­pects for pos­sess­ing or view­ing child pornog­ra­phy could lead the po­lice to per­pe­tra­tors of ac­tual abuse. Many of the cus­tomers who were ar­rested oc­cu­pied po­si­tions of au­thor­ity and trust: forty teach­ers, six mem­bers of law en­force­ment, nine cler­gy­men. David Scott En­gle, a for­mer fam­ily lawyer and a vol­un­teer base­ball coach in Maple Val­ley, Wash­ing­ton, pleaded guilty to mak­ing videos of two boys, one of whom he re­peat­edly raped and the other whom he sex­u­ally abused; Mark Shaf­fer, a seventy-nine-year-old doc­tor in Aurora, Ohio, con­fessed to abus­ing a twelve-year-old boy and afive- year-old girl. Such cases took Be­langer and her col­leagues by sur­prise. “We did have some peo­ple who are on the sex of­fender reg­istry, but that was not a large num­ber,” said Kim Gross, for­mer com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the CES . “It was more like the pil­lars of the com­mu­nity — peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity, peo­ple who have never been in con­tact with the po­lice ever.”

But many cus­tomers were charged only with pos­sess­ing Azov Films videos, and some ob­jected that the le­gal ground had been un­fairly shifted be­neath them. Se­bas­tian Edathy, a mem­ber of the Ger­man par­lia­ment who had presided over a pub­lic in­quiry into a string of neo-nazi mur­ders, was de­fi­ant af­ter his ar­rest. “Ias­sume that the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence counts for me as well,” he posted on his Face­book page, in­sist­ing that the con­tent of the films he’d bought from Azov Films over five years was “un­am­bigu­ously le­gal.” His ar­rest cre­ated a scan­dal for An­gela Merkel’s govern­ment; he re­signed and was in­dicted on child pornog­ra­phy charges. He even­tu­ally pleaded guilty.

The few Azov Films cus­tomers who fought the charges had mixed suc­cess. The US pub­lic de­fend­ers for two separate cus­tomers both ar­gued that the “las­civ­i­ous” stan­dard was un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally vague. Nei­ther mo­tion proved to be per­sua­sive, and both men were con­victed. But a Los An­ge­les school­teacher had his charges re­duced to a mis­de­meanour and three years’ pro­ba­tion. Clai­borne H. Fer­gu­son, a de­fense at­tor­ney from Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, rep­re­sented Azov Films cus­tomer David Rohm, a sixty-five-year-old for­mer in­struc­tor and as­sis­tant ath­letic co­or­di­na­tor at the Univer­sity School of Jack­son. “You’re say­ing that this per­son found it to be arous­ing, and there­fore that turned the art into child pornog­ra­phy?” Fer­gu­son said. “That’s a thought crime.” But one of the videos that Rohm bought seemed ques­tion­able enough, even to the lawyer, that Rohm pleaded guilty. “It’s just a bit too much to say that these are just nat­u­ral­is­tic films,” Fer­gu­son con­ceded.

Then there was Ryan Loskarn, an af­fa­ble and well-liked chief of staff to US Repub­li­can sen­a­tor La­mar Alexan­der. Be­tween Novem­ber of 2010 and March of 2011, Loskarn bought three DVD s from Azov Films. Po­lice raided his home and searched his hard drive, which was dis­cov­ered to con­tain hun­dreds of videos of un­der­age boys and one of a man rap­ing a girl per­haps as young as six. (Loskarn him­self was not sus­pected of en­gag­ing in abuse.) On Jan­uary 23, 2014, while un­der house ar­rest, Loskarn hanged him­self. Four days later, his mother posted on­line the text of an open let­ter he had writ­ten shortly be­fore his death. “I owe many, many peo­ple an ex­pla­na­tion,” he wrote. “I found my­self drawn to videos that matched my own child­hood abuse.... The more an im­age mir­rored some el­e­ment of my mem­o­ries and took me back, the more I felt a con­nec­tion. This is my deep­est, dark­est se­cret.”

Be­langer’s case against Azov Films would not be closed un­til she had faced Brian Way in court. On a Tues­day morn­ing in March 2015, Way, af­ter four years in cus­tody, ap­peared be­fore Jus­tice Julie Thor­burn at the Su­pe­rior Court of Jus­tice in down­town Toronto to be­gin five days of tes­ti­mony. He was ex­pected to ar­gue that the ac­tiv­i­ties of his film­mak­ers had noth­ing to do with the con­tent of the films he sold. He was dou­bling down on his orig­i­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion: that the govern­ment’s case was based en­tirely on a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law — and that his films, how­ever dis­taste­ful, be­longed safely in a le­gal grey area.

As he would on each day of his trial, Way wore a blue suit, but­ton-up shirt, and no tie. His buzz cut em­pha­sized his pro­trud­ing ears, and he seemed trim, maybe twenty pounds lighter than on the morn­ing of his ar­rest in 2011. Be­langer sat sev­eral feet away at a desk just be­hind Jill Cameron and Jen­nifer Stras­berg, the two lawyers for the prose­cu­tion. She had a lap­top open, and it con­tained the en­tire case file — emails,

In Canada, the max­i­mum sen­tence for mak­ing and sell­ing child pornog­ra­phy is ten years—far less than it would be in the US.

videos, pho­tos, fi­nan­cial records — in the event that she was asked to look up ev­i­dence. The pre­vi­ous June, Be­langer had been trans­ferred out of the CES to help start a new unit of the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice spe­cial­iz­ing in cy­ber crime. Her lap­top’s screen­saver fea­tured the words “Keep Calm & Valar Morghulis,” a play on a phrase from Ge­orge R.R. Martin’s gory fantasy se­ries, which means “All men must die” in the fic­tional tongue of High Va­lyr­ian. “I’ve read all the books,” Be­langer said later, with a smile.

Way had been charged with twen­tythree crim­i­nal counts, in­clud­ing the in­struc­tion of a crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion. At the trial, he pleaded guilty to all charges re­lated to his per­sonal col­lec­tion of child im­ages but not guilty to any charges re­lated to his busi­ness. The plea made strate­gic sense. The penal­ties for view­ing or trad­ing abu­sive im­ages are gen­er­ally far more le­nient in Canada than in the US; on just those charges, he could rea­son­ably ex­pect to be re­leased with time served, while the busi­ness-re­lated charges, par­tic­u­larly the one in­volv­ing crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion, might keep him in jail for the rest of his life. To beat the re­main­ing charges, Way would have to ar­gue that his per­sonal and professional lives were en­tirely separate and that Azov Films was en­tirely le­git­i­mate.

Way had waived his right to a jury trial, so he directed many of his an­swers to the judge. As Way calmly fielded ques­tions from his lawyer, Ny­ron Dwyer, the sat­is­fac­tion he took in his professional suc­cess be­came ob­vi­ous. “I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t taken aback at first,” he said. But the films “were be­ing sold ev­ery­where. If it were il­le­gal, then some of these peo­ple would be get­ting caught.” He ad­mit­ted to hav­ing a sex­ual in­ter­est in boys but in­sisted that it had noth­ing to do with his busi­ness, which had re­mained within the bounds of the ac­cept­able “blue­print” es­tab­lished by other na­tur­ist films. He claimed to have been ig­no­rant of what had re­ally been hap­pen­ing to the boys dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of the films. “It didn’t ap­pear to me the boys were be­ing forced,” he said. “The cam­era­man as­sured me they were do­ing it vol­un­tar­ily, and that the par­ents were in­volved.” And he re­minded the court that, long be­fore Be­langer’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the CES had brought him in but de­clined to press charges. “That meet­ing in 2006 was a big day for the com­pany, be­cause

it ba­si­cally told us that ev­ery­thing we were do­ing was good,” he said. “It was, ‘Here is the line, and don’t go across it,’ so we stayed on one side of that line.”

Dur­ing cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, Jill Cameron, one of the prose­cu­tors, at times in­dig­nant, dis­missed Way’s “blue­print” ex­pla­na­tion as un­con­vinc­ing. “You’re say­ing it’s a co­in­ci­dence?” she asked. “The fact that you had a sex­ual in­ter­est in boys had noth­ing to do with the fact that you sold films of naked boys?”

“I also have a sex­ual in­ter­est in teens as well as adults and women,” Way said flatly. “They’re com­pletely un­re­lated.”

When pressed, Way al­lowed for the pos­si­bil­ity that pe­dophiles might like his movies. “I mean, the thought did cross my mind,” he said. “But we had a lot of peo­ple buy­ing my stuff.... To say that only pe­dophiles bought our films would, I think, be in­cor­rect.” Way sug­gested that the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cat­a­logue would be an ap­pro­pri­ate ana­logue: if some view­ers brought a sex­ual pur­pose to it, that wasn’t his re­spon­si­bil­ity. “Peo­ple don’t make shoes for a sex­ual pur­pose,” he said at one point. “But some peo­ple use shoes that way. It’s the same with me.”

The judge shook her head, squinted, and pressed her fin­gers to her tem­ples. “You knew that it could be at­trac­tive to pe­dophiles?” she asked.

“I knew some peo­ple with a sex­ual in­ter­est in chil­dren would like the films,” Way said. “But they weren’t made for that pur­pose.”

Over the next two days, the prose­cu­tors screened por­tions of his movies. First there was Sticky Wa­ter Wig­gles: Boy Fights IX, in which naked boys are seen doused in wa­ter, wrestling in wet un­der­wear, and cov­er­ing one an­other with whipped cream. For the first time, Way flinched. “From what I gath­ered from the trial so far, ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion of what child pornog­ra­phy is,” he said. “I be­lieved at the time that this was not child pornog­ra­phy.”

Cameron then showed Way an email from 2008 in which Way, dis­cussing Sticky Wa­ter Wig­gles, told Roth, “What sells the wa­ter videos so well is be­cause the white un­der­wear is see-through.” Way re­sponded to Cameron, “We’re in the busi­ness of sell­ing nud­ist films, so the more nu­dity, the bet­ter.”

Dur­ing a break, Be­langer said, with an­noy­ance, “I think it’s go­ing to take a lot to crack him. A nar­cis­sist, that’s re­ally what he is. He can keep this per­sona un­der con­trol, like he did on the stand. That’s what made him able to pull off this busi­ness.”

The next day, the fourth day of tes­ti­mony, Cameron showed clips from a video called Cut­ting Room Floor. Be­langer turned around, locked eyes with me, and smiled grimly. Way, at first, had told Roth that the film was too risqué, but in 2011, shortly be­fore his ar­rest, he had re­leased it any­way.

The first half of Cut­ting Room Floor con­sists of noth­ing more than a naked boy, alone in a room, sit­ting on a bas­ket­ball with his legs spread and eat­ing from a pack­age of ro­tis­serie chicken. He dan­gles the pieces of chicken over his mouth, gig­gles, sucks his fin­gers, moans. Half­way through the film, the boy sub­sti­tutes a choco­late cup­cake for the chicken — sit­ting on it, rolling around on it, laugh­ing, slip­ping off the ball.

“That’s the only thing that’s been go­ing on for twenty min­utes,” Cameron said. “How could the pur­pose of this video be any­thing other than to show his gen­i­tals and anal re­gion?”

“It’s in­ter­est­ing,” Way said. “I guess it would be in the eye of the be­holder.”

Seem­ing to tire, he com­plained that he was be­ing asked the same ques­tion over and over: “You’re try­ing to change my mind.”

On may 12, 2015, Jus­tice Thor­burn an­nounced her de­ci­sion. She found Way guilty on ev­ery count ex­cept for the crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion charge. Be­langer had been right: if a judge could be per­suaded that just one Azov Films video was porno­graphic, Way could be deemed a pornog­ra­pher.

But Way’s le­gal strat­egy had also been partly vin­di­cated. Thor­burn des­ig­nated sixty-two videos‚ in­clud­ing Sticky Wa­ter Wig­gles and Cut­ting Room Floor, as porno­graphic, but she with­held that des­ig­na­tion from the other 114 videos. In her de­ci­sion, Thor­burn ap­plied cri­te­ria drawn di­rectly from Canada’s child porn statute: The clar­ity of the im­age. The cam­era an­gle. The prox­im­ity to the gen­i­tal or anal re­gions, the du­ra­tion of the de­pic­tion of those re­gions, and whether the cam­era zooms in on them. The judge noted that she did not give any weight to Way’s ac­count of his in­ten­tions or mo­ti­va­tions, only to the im­ages on­screen. Her de­ci­sion said noth­ing about whether the busi­ness would have been le­gal if he hadn’t re­leased those par­tic­u­lar sixty-two films. Rather than de­clare that Way’s busi­ness was porno­graphic, Thor­burn stuck to de­cid­ing the case one film at a time.

Way’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ings be­gan in De­cem­ber 2015 and con­cluded in July 2016. In Canada, the max­i­mum sen­tence for mak­ing and sell­ing child pornog­ra­phy is ten years, even on mul­ti­ple counts — far less than it would be for some­one con­victed on sim­i­lar charges in the US. Some in Cana­dian law en­force­ment say that if you want to avoid be­ing dis­ap­pointed at a trial, you should leave be­fore the sen­tenc­ing. Way’s at­tor­ney noted that his client had served five years be­fore sen­tenc­ing; as he was en­ti­tled to ex­tra credit for pre­trial jail time, he would be el­i­gi­ble for re­lease not long af­ter his sen­tenc­ing. Sure enough, the judge’s sen­tence will al­low Way, per­haps the world’s most fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful con­victed child pornog­ra­pher, to be a free man as early as Jan­uary 2018.

The judge re­frained from cre­at­ing new case law about the le­gal­ity of na­tur­ism or child erot­ica. Nev­er­the­less, the im­pact of Project Spade con­tin­ues to res­onate be­yond Brian Way. Ad­di­tional Azov Films cus­tomers have been ar­rested and pros­e­cuted. Brian Bone noted that when he’d first heard from Toronto detectives about Azov Films, he’d dis­cov­ered that the Na­tional Cen­ter for Miss­ing and Ex­ploited Chil­dren had al­ready re­ceived com­plaints about the site. The suc­cess of this case, Bone said, means that fu­ture com­plaints are less likely to be ig­nored.

No one, not even Be­langer’s col­leagues in the CES , ex­pected that so many of the cus­tomers of a sup­pos­edly le­git­i­mate busi­ness would turn out to be guilty of far worse ac­tiv­i­ties. “I re­ally get it now, and I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily get it at the be­gin­ning,” Krawczyk said. “Does this per­son have this hourand-a-half video be­cause they need to get into the chil­dren’s lives? Is that per­haps the same per­son who vol­un­teers at the lo­cal church? Is that the school jan­i­tor who puts cam­eras in the washroom and records chil­dren?”

Be­langer, for her part, re­mains con­vinced that ev­ery Azov Films video was porno­graphic. “Even the stuff that’s hard to fit into the def­i­ni­tions we have right now, how can we not see it for what it is?” she said. Be­langer ar­gued Way knew ev­ery­thing that was hap­pen­ing to the boys be­ing filmed: she had seen ev­ery­thing on his

com­put­ers — how he made it clear who his favourite boys were and, in graphic de­tail, why. His de­sires and his films were are­flec­tion of one an­other, Be­langer said; in any num­ber of emails, she re­ported, he re­ferred to cer­tain boys as “hot.” “He def­i­nitely en­joyed it per­son­ally,” she said. But in his busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tions and per­sonal cor­re­spon­dences, “he’s call­ing the ket­tle black. His num­ber one in­sult to­wards any­one who pisses him off is pe­dophile: ‘I’ll un­cover you as the pe­dophile that you are.’ So what’s go­ing on there? Ma­jor self­ha­tred, or ma­jor de­nial?”

She still thinks about the boys who were ex­ploited by Way’s com­pany, their im­ages dis­persed around the world. Near the end of her time on the case, she dis­cov­ered through email records that one boy had tried to reach the owner of Azov Films to com­plain. Way had never replied, so Be­langer de­cided that she would.

She and the young man started to Skype. Now in his twen­ties, he said he had come across a movie he’d ap­peared in sev­eral years be­fore, when he was still liv­ing in Ukraine. Only then, he said, did he learn that he’d likely been seen by thou­sands of peo­ple around the world. “He told me how they were told that the film was just go­ing to be about Ukrainian cul­ture and that they wouldn’t be shown nude,” Be­langer said. “But they were.” In the spring of 2015, when Way was found guilty, one of the first things Be­langer wanted to do was let the young man know. She sent him an email and tried to Skype him, but he hasn’tan­swered.

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