VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A teacher, a school trustee and a firefighter are among 47 men Vancouver police have arrested following a two-month investigation targeting people willing to buy sex from teenagers.
The two-part operation, dubbed Project Serrated and Project Steadfast, was conducted by Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) Counter Exploitation Unit. Investigators posted fake profiles online to see if people were willing to pay for sex with a minor.
The men were arrested over a period of nine separate days between September and November 2018, according to VPD. Seven of the men have been charged with “obtaining for consideration the sexual services of a person under the age of 18 years,” including the unnamed teacher, school trustee and firefighter.
VPD Deputy Chief Laurence Rankin says the teacher is not currently working at any school.
“I would suggest the vast majority of the men that were seeking sex industry workers were looking for adult females. So the vast majority would turn down the offer,” Rankin said. “But what’s disconcerting is that the small group of men that, were in fact, discovered that the person they were communicating with or believed the person they were communicating with was underage they were more excited about that.”
WATCH: Former teacher among 47 arrested in VPD underage sex sting
He says prices, a location and sex acts were agreed upon and those who followed-through and showed up at a hotel room were met and arrested VPD officers.
.@VancouverPD deputy chief Laurence Rankin said officers had hundreds of chat streams w/ potential clients. They actually had to turn some away. Says vast majority were looking for sex w/ adult women and turned down VPD fake offer. pic.twitter.com/OVILqaJPTz
— Lasia Kretzel (@lkretzel1130) January 23, 2019
Police are working with Crown Counsel on the remaining arrests and expect more charges in the near future, Rankin said, adding the names of those arrested will not be released because police want to let the court system run its course, noting other charges are yet to come.
If convicted, the men face a mandatory, minimum six-month sentence.
Sex worker, anti-human trafficking advocates applaud operation
“We’re very excited to see this happen and we believe this sends a strong message to survivors of exploitation and trafficking that this is not acceptable and our community will step up and protect them.” Larissa Maxwell with the Salvation Army’s anti-human traffic program said following the announcement from VPD.
Maxwell was among around 30 people from various organizations who came to show support for VPD’s efforts to reduce child sex trafficking. She said news of the possible involvement of people who work with children didn’t surprise her.
“We see individuals from all walks of life, that lines up with what the survivors of these crimes have told us that they’ve experienced,” she said. “And it sends a very strong message when the police are willing to do an undercover investigation, put these resources forward.”
Current sex worker and BC Coalition of Experiential Communities representative Susan Davis says she understands from VPD that once the men were told they were speaking with a teen, some tried to refer the fake profile to support services and the Counter Exploitation Unit.
“Over the years we’ve done a lot of work trying to educate the clients about what their role is in trying to end exploitation in our industry and the ways they can report if they witness exploitation of any kind via CrimeStoppers,” she said.
She says despite her opposition to the federal government’s Bill C-36, which prohibits the purchasing and advertising of sex work, she believes VPD has done good work in recent years by focusing on non-consensual sex work.
“I think this is really proving that if we work together from a place of understanding that not all sex work is exploitation, that we can use the resources we have to target actual exploitation and see the results that we want from everybody,” she said. “None of us support exploitation of youth or any person.”