The 53-year-old man thought he was communicating with a teenage girl in Abbotsford when he began sending her sexually explicit videos of himself.
He mentioned that he hoped to travel from his home on Prince Edward Island across the country to meet the 14-year-old. The exchange went on through the summer of 2014 and into the fall.
What the man didn’t realize was that he was communicating with Abbotsford Police Department (APD) Det. Craig Burridge the entire time.
The investigation resulted in Lorne Thomas Stevens being arrested and later pleading guilty to using a computer to lure a person under the age of 16 into a sexual act.
Stevens was sentenced in July of this year to 18 months in prison.
The case is among the latest in a string of child porn investigations with which Burridge, a detective with the APD major crime unit (MCU), has been involved.
Burridge has been with the MCU since 2011, two years after joining the APD following an eight-year stint with the Delta Police Department. He is involved in all types of files, including murder, aggravated assault, armed robberies and arsons.
But his work in leading child porn investigations is unique in that he is the only officer in Abbotsford doing so.
The majority of these types of files in the Lower Mainland are handled, or started, by agencies such as the RCMP’s Integrated Child Exploitation Unit or the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, but those specific to Abbotsford are often handled by the APD.
Earlier this year, provincial RCMP reported they had uncovered 1,228 incidents of B.C. residents sharing child pornography, including photos and videos, during a six-month period in 2014.
Nationally, police-reported incidents of child pornography or child-prostitution-related offences totalled 2,293 in 2014, according to Statistics Canada.
Burridge said his work initially began as reactive – following up when other agencies notified the APD that a suspected offender was sharing or accessing images of child sexual abuse from Abbotsford.
His first such case took place in 2012, when his supervisor brought him a file and asked if he would be interested in investigating it.
An FBI agent on the U.S. east coast had been posing online as a man who wanted to involve his daughter in child pornography. The suspect had shared a sexually explicit image with the agent and stated, “Show this to your daughter.”
The exchange was traced to a computer in Abbotsford, and U.S. authorities notified the APD.
Burridge became the lead investigator on the case, including writing the application for a search warrant and interviewing the suspect who was arrested.
The task of thoroughly examining the items seized during the execution of the search warrant was assigned to APD Det. Shane Savinkoff, who runs the digital forensics lab that handles not only child porn files, but all types of cases that involve retrieving technological evidence.
The investigation resulted in Donald Petne, now 51, pleading guilty in June 2013 to charges of possession of child porn, importing or distributing child porn, and counselling an indictable offence not committed. He was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of probation.
Burridge said it was difficult to view the “very detailed, gruesome and horrific” images that were obtained as evidence during the investigation, but having young children of his own motivated him to keep going, in between his other tasks with the major crime unit.
“It was a new challenge for me. Getting into policing, I never thought I would get into the position I am now … but somebody has to do it. These are the worst people of the worst,” he said.
Burridge said he has not had to take any time off to deal with the traumatic aspects of such work.
“Obviously, what I deal with is quite horrible; however, I recognize that it is a necessary evil that has to be completed in order for those responsible to be discovered and ultimately convicted. It is, in my opinion, much like those who investigate murders – I don’t think they enjoy seeing the horrible ways that people are killed, but they too need to do it to find those responsible.”
Burridge has since taken a series of courses and eventually became qualified to proactively go after people, instead of waiting for other agencies to notify the APD about potential suspects. His first such case was the one involving Stevens.
Since Burridge started his work in child porn investigations in 2012, a total of 14 suspects – all men – have been arrested and charged in Abbotsford. Of those, nine have pleaded guilty and five more are still working their way through the court system.
Burridge said in most cases the men apologize and say they didn’t realize they were victimizing anyone by viewing or sharing images of child sexual abuse, but he points out that they are creating a market for such material to be made.
He said most of the men charged are otherwise seemingly “normal” people whose loved ones find the discovery “confusing and shocking.”
“This isn’t your typical person driving around in a van looking for kids. You never know who’s going to be responsible for this because it’s a dark secret – a very dark secret,” Burridge said.
He acknowledges that there are more offenders who will go undetected than will be arrested, but he is driven to do what he can.
“There are no easy answers to it … There’s always going to be somebody out there, but I think we’re making a difference here (in Abbotsford), for sure,” he said.