LAVAL – After sharing sexually explicit photos of young girls, ten boys aged 13 to 15 were arrested by Laval police on Thursday morning.
They are expected to appear in court on Thursday afternoon to face charges of possession, production and distribution of juvenile pornography.
The investigation began after an employee at an English high school in the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board noticed that a group of boys were looking at pornography on a cellphone.
Police said that the boys, who attended three different high schools in Laval: Mother Theresa Junior High School, Laval Liberty High School and Laurier Senior High School, were using laptops, cell phones and iPads to take pictures of girls in sexual poses or performing sexual acts.
According to a Laval police spokesperson, the boys persuaded seven girls – some whom were their girlfriends – to send them sexy photos and videos, which they would then share.
Laval police spokesperson, Constable Nathalie Lorrain confirmed that an investigation dubbed Operation Magma began at the start of October and involved dozens of officers and a specialized unit.
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“Basically, they were sharing the pictures between themselves, the ten young men,” Lorrain said.
“We saw that they were shared outside also, so we don’t know to what extent the pictures are going around cyber space. This morning, we seized iPods, iPads, laptops and phones, which will permit us to find out what extent those pictures were shared.”
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The investigation has not just affected the boys involved. Many of the girls featured in the photos also attended local schools.
“The girls were quite shocked when they found out what happened to their pictures, because they had confidence in the boys when they sent them the pictures,” said Lorrain.
“To find out that their friends were looking at them together, it was pretty shocking to them.”
According to Laval police, several of the girls believed that the images would be kept private and could not be shared because they sent the photos using an app called Snapchat.
Essentially, it is a photo messaging application that allows the sender to control for how long photos and videos can be seen by the recipient. Once the time limit ends, the ‘snap’ is hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from Snapchat.
“Because the picture will appear only for a few seconds, the person at the other end can just look at it quickly and then it disappears. But there is always the possibility of taking a screengrab of the picture.”
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The boys have been transferred to the Laval detention centre and are expected to appear in youth court to face charges.
“These are very serious accusations,” said Lorrain.
“We’re not thinking of jail time or anything like that. It’s more of a big lesson.”
A spokesperson from Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board said that they are co-operating with authorities.
Parents in the three schools can expect a letter that will explain the situation and offer assistance to students that need it.
“I want to take an opportunity to implore parents to be vigilant in regards to their children’s use of technology,” said Stephanie Vucka, director general of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier school board.
“Many of the incidents we end up dealing with at school occur off-premises and off school hours but come back into the school setting once students are together.”
Vucka wouldn’t day whether the ten students arrested would face further sanctions, saying the matter was in the police’s hands for now.
She noted that the issue of sexting and cyberbullying were widely discussed at schools within the school board district.
“It’s certainly not just prevalent at Sir Wilfrid Laurier, this is an endemic issue and it’s being discussed in Quebec and Canada-wide,” she said.
– With files from Mike Armstrong, Anne Leclair and The Canadian Press