VANCOUVER – Five charges including child pornography, extortion, criminal harassment and Internet luring have been laid by RCMP against a man in the Netherlands in connection with the Amanda Todd case, an online bullying story that captured the attention of millions across the world.
The 15-year-old British Columbia girl killed herself in October 2012, shortly after detailing in an Internet video her story of unrelenting harassment by an Internet predator.
Amanda’s mother, Carol Todd, was at the news conference where police made the announcement about charges.
“This is truly a day that we’ve been waiting for, to hear that something has come out of Amanda’s story. I always knew deep in my heart that what my daughter told was the truth.”
The announcement on charges Thursday came just hours after a Dutch television station revealed a 35-year-old man jailed in the Netherlands since January was accused of using webcam footage to blackmail dozens of victims, including Todd, in several countries.
RCMP Insp. Paulette Freill said that B.C.’s Crown counsel laid the criminal charges today, but she wouldn’t release the man’s name to protect the criminal proceedings in the Netherlands.
Freill said all the charges are related to incidents alleged to have happened between Jan. 1, 2010, and Oct. 10, 2012 — the same day Todd died.
Amanda’s father, Norm Todd, said he was relieved by the news.
“I’m just really glad that we finally have a suspect arrested and hopefully we can get some justice out of it.”
Police wouldn’t say if their work in Canada led Dutch police to their suspect or if it was the other way around.
“Today marks a major milestone everybody in our investigation, a suspect has been identified, he’s been arrested and he has been charged,” said Freill.
Also on Thursday, the prosecution service in the Netherlands said in a news release that the suspect was arrested three months ago and is suspected of encouraging underage girls in several countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands, to perform sexual acts in front of a web camera.
It’s a break in the case that made international headlines and fuelled a debate about bullying and online sexual exploitation after the video surfaced that featured Todd holding up handwritten signs detailing what happened to her.
Mathijs Pennings, a reporter who worked on the story for broadcaster Omroep Brabant, said prosecutors and police believe there could be as many as 40 victims.
“The prosecutors and police think he made footage of the webcam and blackmailed her with the pictures, and he did that with other kids, too, around the world,” Pennings told The Canadian Press in an interview from Tilburg, located just west of Oisterwijk, where the man was arrested.
Before Todd’s suicide, she uploaded an emotional video in which she said she was lured by an unidentified male to expose her breasts during an online chat. The video said she received a message a year later from a man on Facebook threatening that if she didn’t give him a show, he would send the webcam picture to her friends and family.
Todd’s story, and others like it, prompted the Canadian government to propose legislation that would make it a criminal offence to distribute intimate images without the consent of the person shown.
Pennings said the man was arrested at a vacation home in Oisterwijk, located about 100 kilometres south of Amsterdam.
The suspect is being held in the Netherlands on charges of indecent assault, the production and dissemination of child pornography, fraud, computer intrusion and the possession of hard drugs, the prosecution news release said.
The B.C. Crown Prosecutors office said that the responsibility for making an application for extradition of an accused from another country is with the federal Department of Justice, which may act after receiving a request from a province.
The branch said in a news release that it has concluded this is an appropriate case to forward such a request to the federal government.
“Given the international aspects of this investigation, including the ongoing case in the Netherlands, it is impossible to predict with any certainty when the accused may appear in a British Columbia court,” the statement said.
The man’s lawyer, Christian van Dijk, said he doesn’t believe prosecutors have sufficient evidence to convict his client. He said even if there is evidence of unlawful activity on the man’s computer, it may have been hacked.
“Prosecutors seem to think they have a big fish here, but if I see the evidence, it’s not much,” he said. “Lots of references to IP addresses and such.”
Pennings said the man, who is not married and does not have any children, was born in the Netherlands but also has a Turkish passport.
Authorities in the Netherlands were tipped off by an American Internet provider and seized computers when the man was arrested, said Pennings.
Pennings said Dutch people are familiar with Todd’s story.
“It was all around the news here too, so her video was watched by many Dutch people,” he said.
“People know the story of Amanda Todd.”
— With files from The Associated Press