In the span of four days, York Regional Police say an investigation found 22 men who were willing to have sex with an underage sex worker.

The men were from across the Greater Toronto Area and ranged in age from 18 to 54. They were husbands, fathers and sons – men, according to York Regional Police Det. Sgt. Peter Casey, “from any walk of life.”

“The initiative was focusing on seeking out johns that were seeking the services of sex-trade workers under the age of 18 – juveniles,” Casey said Monday. “These are girls in our mind.”

Police say vice officers posted online classified ads pretending to be sex workers. When they were contacted by potential clients, the clients were allegedly told the sex worker was 16 years old, Casey said.

“Between 80- to 90-per cent of those we had conversation with, once they learned they were speaking with an alleged 16-year-old, didn’t follow through any further,” Casey said. “The 10-plus per cent that did follow through with the transaction and showed up knew exactly what they were doing.”

Ten additional men were arrested last year as part of the same initiative. Of those men, four have pleaded guilty and six remain before the courts, Casey said. The four men who pleaded guilty received sentences ranging from two to seven months behind bars, he added.

Among those in court on Nov. 3 to face charges was a 29-year-old Markham man, who court heard works an office job in logistics. The parents of the accused wept as the allegations were read out in court, with his father explaining to a reporter outside the courtroom that they had “no idea” their son was allegedly involved in such activities.

As part of their bail conditions, each of the men were ordered to stay away from schoolyards, daycares, public swimming pools and playgrounds – anywhere that children under 16 would reasonably be. They were also ordered not to hold a job that would put them in positions of trust or authority with children under 16. Such conditions are common for people accused of sex crimes against children.

An exception was made for a 39-year-old man from Whitchurch-Stouffville, who was told by the Justice of the Peace that he is permitted to walk his two young children to school.

Asked about the allegations against him outside court, a 30-year-old Markham man explained: “I first said goodbye and then she texted me back.” When asked for clarification, the man who bailed the accused out swore and hit the reporter’s microphone.

Asked whether he tried to have sex with a 16-year-old girl, the accused said: “Certainly not.”

When a 29-year-old Bradford man was asked about the allegations against him outside court, he replied: “I have to say it was entrapment.” Asked whether he thought he was going to have sex with an underage sex worker, he said: “No, I was never gonna do that.”

Police said the goal of the initiative is to protect teenage sex workers, who are often enslaved in the sex trade by pimps.

“It’s our view that the johns out there who are seeking the services of these young girls are contributing to the exploitation,” Casey said. “I hope they understand that they’re contributing to the exploitation of young women.”

Each man was charged with luring a child for the purpose of obtaining sexual services for consideration from a person under 18, agreement or arrangement to obtain sexual services for consideration from a person under 18, and obtaining sexual services for consideration from a person under 18.

If convicted, the men could face at least six months in jail.

Investigators say their hope is that other men will be deterred from booking dates with underage sex workers – even if that deterrence is only from the fear of being duped by an undercover officer.