Undercover officers posing as children online have identified and arrested 10 suspects who Ontario Provincial Police say intended to lure and sexually exploit underage victims.

The OPP said over a four-day period, investigators from police services across Ontario used “uncover techniques” to access chatrooms and social media apps in an attempt to identify, locate, and arrest those looking to sexually exploit children. 

The joint investigation, dubbed Project Limestone, took place between Sept. 12 and Sept. 15 and included the North Bay Police Service, the Greater Sudbury Police Service, Durham Regional Police, York Regional Police and Peel Regional Police, with support from the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service.

Police said 39 charges have been laid against the 10 suspects identified during the investigation, including luring, arranging to commit sexual offences against a child, and making child sexual abuse material.

“The public should know how quickly predators engage with your children online,” Sgt. Tim Brown said in a video posted online.

“In one case, it took only an hour-and-a-half from the time a suspect engaged with an undercover officer posing a child online to when they arrived to meet.”

Police said some of the accused arrived at the meet-up point with candy, toys, and sexual paraphernalia.

Project LimestoneAccording to the OPP, one of the accused is a repeat offender who was out on bail at the time of his arrest.

Fifty-five electronic devices were seized as part of Project Limestone, police said.

Four men from northern Ontario were charged, including Michael Williams, a 49-year-old North Bay resident, two Sudbury men Brandon Poirier, 30, and Colin Amer, 37, and 66-year-old Joseph Tomchak, of Sault Ste. Marie.

Two Vaughan residents, 31-year-old Khan Muhammad and 29-year-old John Joseph Chau, were arrested in connection with the investigation.

Edmund Timothy Baulk, 52, of Whitby, 25-year-old Markham resident Patal Ayushkumar, and 67-year-old Wilfred Thyssen, of Fergus, Ont., were also charged, police said.

A 43-year-old man from Massachusetts, who police did not identify, was charged with incest, sexual assault, making written child pornography, and counselling another person to commit an indictable offence. That suspect is under investigation by local police, the OPP said, and a forensic examination will be conducted.

In a news release, OPP said police services that participated in the joint investigation have noticed a “significant” increase in the number of calls related to child exploitation.

“Luring offenders often target a multitude of victims at the same time,” the release read. “Predators go where children go; it is imperative that parents and caregivers are aware of what their children do online.”

Police said the Canadian Centre for Child Protection has resources for parents on how to keep children safe online.

The OPP added that anyone with information on incidents involving child sexual exploitation should contact local police agencies or go to cybertip.ca.