In September 1993, a boy in Lucan, Ontario went fishing in the Ausable River. Instead of perch he hooked a bag filled with videotapes.
He took them home, dried them out, and popped one into his VCR.
His mother called the police.
His catch would launch an investigation. Police would find another bag in the river, and later locate a box. The story would become prominent news around and outside of southwestern Ontario, and for some time cast a shadow over London, Ontario, where the videotapes were made. Despite frightful allegations, people who looked beyond the headlines soon found themselves questioning many aspects of the story. John Grayson, who investigated the matter for CBC soon found himself unwilling to trust "anyone"-- police, witnesses, accused, and the media.
The story has become part of the past, forgotten outside of the region and seldom discussed much within. It remains an important one, however, not only for its own sake, but because of what it reveals about the way we receive and interpret the information which shapes our perceptions and actions.
The story broke November 11, 1993 after two men, Edward Jewell, then 36, and Gary Gramlick, then 58, both of London, Ontario, were arrested.
Child Porn Bust in London may be largest in Ontario
--The London Free Press.
The first account painted a frightening image. Police had seized 230 videotapes of children filmed in sex acts with adult men. Police claimed that the tapes were secretly recorded and might have been destined for the United States. The victims were said to be "ages 10 to 14," and the police were at work identifying the various other men in the videotapes. One day later, the children's ages were "ten to seventeen," and "numerous adults" were being sought.
Most people in southwestern Ontario expressed shock and outrage. Of course we did. The image left in people's minds involved little children, sexually abused by a ring of adult men, who made a permanent record of their crimes.
On November 24, the London Free Press headline read, "Girls as young as eight filmed in sexual acts with men, police say." At this point, a few careful readers began to wonder. The article which mentioned the "girls" went on to say that "the videotaped sex acts involve only boys and men," which seemed to contradict the headline. All acts observed to that point were said to be consensual, even if the boys were "duped" and coerced. What was the significance, then, of the 8-year-old girl or girls? And given that Canadian law does not recognize the possibility of consent to any sexual act until fourteen, how could children younger than 14 have consented to be involved?
The 8-year-old girl would soon disappear from official references1, and the youngest ages mentioned later would be eleven and twelve (there remains some inconsistency on this point). A spokesperson for the London Free Press would later acknowledge in a CBC interview that they should have retracted the statement, since neither females nor children as young as 8 appear to have been involved in this case. They never did-- at least not in print.
Over the course of the initial investigation, named "Project Scoop," thirty-seven men would be arrested. The headlines identified them as a "Child Pornography Ring," and this label stayed. In fact, police superintendent Balmain would later state that the "biggest problem we had was changing the media's concept of this from a pornography investigation-- that name stuck way way beyond whatever we said. We said numerous times it was an investigation into child exploitation" (James Balmain, quoted in "After the Bath"). This may be true, but, as noted in the CBC documentary "After the Bath," the police themselves continued to use the "pornography" heading on their press releases for ten months after the original arrest, long after they had switched their focus, and with no new pornography-related charges pending against the men they arrested.
Only three men ever faced charges on child pornography, and only two of those, the first two people arrested, were ever convicted of child porn charges. Furthermore, despite early statements that the police were searching for the men seen in the videotape, most of the men eventually charged never appeared on the tapes, nor had they been aware that these tapes existed. The men arrested under what started as "Project Scoop" and eventually became "Project Guardian" were charged with offenses related to prostitution and minors. Gramlick and Jewell victimized young boys, but most of the other charges involved males well into their teens.
If the men other than the two principally involved were mainly arrested because they had been clients of teenage hustlers, which men had the police identified on the videotape? For the most part, those "adult predators" on tapes whom the police originally sought were-- by the time the cases got to court-- the child victims.
Adults or children?
The police showed the images to social workers, who quickly identified twenty of the twenty-three boys who appear on tape. Many were known to social workers; a few were teenage boys who regularly sold sexual services to older men. They reportedly appear on the tapes, engaged in sexual activity with the two men who made the tapes, or with each other, or masturbating for the camera. Some of those involved were quite young, and matched the image of child victims evoked by the headlines. More than 70% were over the age of 14, and most in their late teens. A few were in their twenties, and not children by any definition.
While no other men were involved in the production of the (rather ineptly-disposed of) homemade porn, the police pressured the teenage boys to reveal the names of men with whom they'd had sex. These men were arrested and, for the most part, charged with violations of laws relating to prostitution and consent. Solicitation laws can (understandably) be quite harsh where minors are involved. It is a crime in Canada to "compensate" anyone under 18 for sex. At the time, the age of consent for anal sex was older than for other sexual acts, and some of the men faced charges for having what would have been consensual activity, had their partners been female.2 In the most bizarre instance, two twenty-seven-year-olds were charged because they had a threesome with Jewell; at the time, this violated an obscure technicality of law. That charge went nowhere, but one can imagine the effect it had on the local gay community.
Thirteen men were convicted. Jewell and Gramlick, who had made the tapes and whose activities in some cases had involved young children, received sentences of ten and fifteen years. The remainder of the men received relatively light sentences, of the sort often given to men convicted on charges involving teenage prostitutes. Many people raised objections. The perception that all of the men had been pornographers involved with young children had become widespread.
Several of the youth involved were later interviewed for a CBC Radio program, The Trials of London. Some said they did not feel victimized, and some felt the charges should be dropped. Many claimed they named men with whom they'd had sex only because they were threatened with charges if they did not. I do not suggest that it is acceptable for adults to pay teenagers for sex, but the practice is depressingly commonplace, and the adults rarely face such serious consequences-- as we shall shortly see.
Part Two: Project Guardian and a list of sources.
1. Much later, allegations involving an 8-year-old boy were made against one of the men arrested, but relevant charges were never laid. The incident received prominent mention in the coverage of Project Guardian. The mother's most recent account states that her son was never involved, but that the police used the allegation to counter negative coverage received in the national media (Smith). In his biography, Julian Fantino, who headed the investigation, would mention the 8-year old again, but not discuss how this individual related to the investigation. I have no idea what the truth on this matter might be.
2. Yes, anal sex would've remained illegal regardless of the teens' genders, but had these men been having sex with females, they likely would've been having vaginal sex. The same consent laws now govern all sexual acts in Canada (and the age of consent has also been altered).