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Man shares cautionary tale of what can happen when online credentials are compromised

A Woodstock, Ont. man is speaking out after his son was charged with child pornography and then later acquitted of all charges.

Mario Spina described the past year as a horrible nightmare for his family. His 19-year-old son Kristian was charged with distribution, possession and accessing child pornography.

In October of 2021, Woodstock police said they received a cyber tip from the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC). They had received notification from the social network platform Snapchat that a video — which met the Criminal Code definition of child pornography — had been uploaded to their platform, and that the IP address associated with the upload originated from within the City of Woodstock.

Woodstock police began investigating and obtained a search warrant in January of 2022. As a result, Mario said several devices were seized from the his family home, including an old iPhone that had not been in use for months because it belonged to his son Kristian and it had been hacked.

Woodstock police conducted a digital forensic examination on this phone and said “it contained materials that met the Criminal Code definition of child pornography.”

This gave them "reasonable and probable grounds" to proceed to lay the charges against Kristian.

"When I found out about this, I was shocked, because the cops were saying, ‘Images, child pornography.’ I’ve never seen any of this stuff, I’ve never seen it on my phone,” said Kristian.

Mario said police could have done more before laying the charges against his son.

“They didn't ask enough questions, they started that investigation from a position of guilt, they never took any innocence into consideration,” he said.

Toronto criminal defence lawyer, Michelle Biddulph, who represented Kristian, said people have to be really careful if they get any notification that their social media credentials are compromised.

“If someone gets access to them, and uses them to share child pornography, it's you that will be subject to the charges, not them, because of course, how are the police going to know whether its you that’s sharing the material or someone else. They are going to lay the charge and let the court system figure it out,” explained Biddulph.

So the family decided to take matters into their own hands and hired their own digital forensic analyst.

Mario and Kristian Spina of Woodstock, Ont. (Reta Ismail/CTV News London)

“I was able to pull up records demonstrating that both Kristian’s account and a number of his family members’ who all share the same home IP address had all been compromised. This is something that had the police taken into consideration from the onset, they would have approached this a little differently,” said Jason Conley, a digital forensic analyst with Envista Forensics.

Conley said thumbnails from a single video were stored deep within the snapchat application — an indication that the video had never been viewed.

"If someone were to log into your say Snapchat account on a different phone, and share child pornography, remnants of that might show up on your phone. Just through a concept called remote synchronization,” said Biddulph.

The issue with Kristian’s case was the evidence of the credentials being compromised wasn't found by police on Kristian’s phone; they got that later from the defence, after the charge was laid.

A year after Kristian was charged, Biddulph said the Crown’s attorney withdrew the charges after the judge restricted what the Crown’s digital forensic expert could testify about.

According to court documents, the judge said he was not satisfied that the expert was qualified to properly analyze and interpret the data extracted from Kristian’s phone.

Mario filed a complaint of misconduct against the Woodstock Police Service through the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).

"They didn't accept any of the shortcomings, even though we kept talking about that they should have done more, they didn’t," said Mario.

They received a decision back, stating that the Woodstock Deputy Chief of Police Nick Novacich reviewed the documents and determined "the Woodstock police did complete an adequate and thorough investigation into this matter. He continued to say that he did not find any reference that the investigation was ‘improper or neglectful.’”

CTV News London reached out to Novacich and asked if the process by which these charges are laid has changed since this case, or if there has been additional training for officers who work on such cases. He declined an on camera interview, but provided a statement, which reads in part:

"The Woodstock police continually enhance and develop our members’ skills and qualifications to keep up with the rapid changing technology involved in such complex investigations."

The family is exploring all options — but have not taken any legal action.

“Having your name published online for something you didn't do, especially as bad a case as this, you know, it feels like you can't live your life the same," said Kristian. Top Stories

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