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, open-plan 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 peer-to-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 twenty-two 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. “In Toronto, 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 peer-to-peer file-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. 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 DVDs, 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 DVDs 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 a television 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, 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 a five-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. “I assume 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 DVDs 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, 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 twenty-three 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 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 hour-and-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 a reflection 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 self-hatred, 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’t answered.

Robert Kolker
Robert Kolker is a New-York based investigative reporter and the author of the non-fiction bestseller Lost Girls.