October 14, 1994
Producer: Max Allen
The Trials of London: Part 2Lister Sinclair: I'm Lister Sinclair with IDEAS about "The Bedrooms of the Nation." Pierre Trudeau, when he was justice minister back in 1967, said that the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation. He meant that laws controlling consensual sex should be kept to a minimum.
In London, Ontario, over the past year, those laws have been used with extraordinary force. Tonight we continue an examination we began last week of the situation in London involving gay sex and child pornography. Listener discretion is advised. Also, you should know that we are required, because of court-ordered publication bans, to change some names.
Max Allen: There's an urban legend circulating in London, Ontario. It's one of those stories like the one about alligators living in the sewers, or the woman who tried to dry her poodle in the microwave. Everybody's heard it and it sounds plausible, but it turns out to be fiction.
The urban legend you hear in London isn't about alligators in the sewers; it's about a child-pornography ring that's ruining children's lives. Innocent boys are being given money and food, clothes and drugs, to be videotaped having sex. Huge numbers are involved; thirty-seven men and boys have been arrested already and the problem has spread beyond London to the whole province and probably the whole country. Over a thousand videotapes have been seized by the police. The chief of police says:
Julian Fantino: Pictures don't lie. Pictures tell it all.
Max Allen<: But what do they tell? Who decides what they mean? London, Ontario, is in the grip of what sociologists call a moral panic. It was generated by the police, with the help of therapists and social workers, and it's been fuelled by the media, particularly The London Free Press (the only newspaper in town) and London's leading radio station.
Audio collage of radio reports: -- child pornography ring ...the perpetrators of this child-pornography ring ...to help ferret out child pornography in this province ...[static] is a reality ...[static] development in this child-pornography ring ...the London police in this child-porn investigation ...latest developments in this incredible child-pornography ring --
Max Allen: Only two of the thirty-seven men and boys arrested in London were involved with pornography. The other thirty-five were accused only of having homosexual sex. But that's not the impression created by The London Free Press in the course of 110 stories they've published since the panic began last November. "Child Porn Ring" is the standard headline. Even the newspaper's own library files the stories under the heading "Pornography."
To summarize last week's program: the home-made videotapes of boys, mostly teenage hustlers, having sex, were discovered by accident. After a law was passed last summer making it illegal to have any sexual image of anybody who looks like they're under eighteen, the two men who'd made the sex videos had them thrown into the Ausable River. A boy who was fishing found them, and the London police pounced, first on the makers and then on the hustlers. The boys on the tapes were told they'd be charged themselves unless they named the men they'd had sex with. The teenagers were also encouraged to name their friends who might be having sex with men.
Altogether the London police claimed they've done more than five hundred interviews.
Joseph Couture: Why do you think the police have targeted you guys?
David Ashfield: Everybody? Just 'cause we're gay and they're not.
Max Allen: London gay activist Craig Stainton:
Craig Stainton: The truth is that the police are using everything and anything they can get hold of to attack a certain segment of society, and at this particular point in time that segment happens to be gay men.
Max Allen: The London police named their investigation "Operation Scoop." Throughout this pandemonium the police and the press consistently portrayed the boys as victimized children, in spite of the fact that almost all of them were sexually active teenagers who were having sex for fun or for profit.
In the second week of the investigation, on 24 November 1993, The London Free Press headlined its story, "Girls as Young as Eight Filmed in Sexual Acts with Men, Police [say]." "New evidence in the London child-pornography investigation," the story begins, "reveals that girls as young as eight years old were duped into being videotaped committing sexual acts with men. 'We just began looking at the latest tapes and found evidence of young girls,' Inspector Jim Balmain said."
No girls were ever involved, but the story was never retracted.
Another false alarm was sounded in April; it got national attention. The London Free Press, 8 April: "Police Believe 80 Teens, Adults HIV Infected." 9 April: "Potential for an AIDS Epidemic Draws Alarm from Local Officials." "As many as 160 persons could be at risk of being infected with HIV, following the disclosure a youth involved in the London [pornography] investigation may have infected dozens of teens and adults."
There was no evidence for any of this.
One of the men arrested was HIV-positive, as was one of the fifty-five boys interrogated. These figures are less than the prevalence you'd expect statistically in this population.
The reporting everywhere used words like shocking and desperate. This is from the CTV National News:
News announcer [archival tape]: Officials are now desperately trying to find as many as 140 young offenders who may have been exposed to the HIV virus at a correctional facility. They are believed to have had contact with a young man who was infected through activity in the child-pornography trade.
Max Allen: The CTV reporter says that the seventeen-year-old has "confessed" he's HIV-positive. London's acting medical officer of health speaks:
Medical officer Verna Mai [archival tape]: We're looking at a very -- I think, potentially, an epidemic.
News reporter [archival tape]
Police spokesman Jim Balmain [archival tape]: They pass these kids around from one to another like a piece of meat. They exchange pornographic tapes of pedophilia, and this is how they get to know each other. And it goes across the country.
News reporter [archival tape]: And it's this underground subculture that scares provincial health investigators. They're desperately searching for more than a hundred former residents at Camp Dufferin who may have been exposed to the teen in question.
Medical officer Verna Mai [archival tape]: When you're talking about pornography, sure, it's shocking, but you throw in a deadly disease and it becomes even more shocking.
News reporter [archival tape]: The police investigation is far from over; they expect to make even more arrests. But they're not just dealing with a crime anymore. They're now grappling with a deadly disease.
Max Allen: I talked to reporter John Herbert, who wrote the HIV stories for The London Free Press.
The Free Press made quite a deal out of the HIV epidemic that was going to arise from this situation -- for about a week. And then I haven't heard anything more about it.
John Herbert: I think the first week it was covered sort of from the police side of things, and the original -- the medical-health office held a press conference after that, and it pretty much has been a dead duck since then. I don't think anybody's bothered to pursue it.
Max Allen: On 13 April, five days after the panic started, London's new chief medical officer of health -- who'd been appointed only the day before -- tried to calm the situation. Under the usual teaser "London Porn Probe," the Free Press headline read: "No Threat of AIDS Epidemic." CTV ignored the story, letting their original coverage stand.
Exaggeration and misrepresentation have characterized the London story from day one. There is said to be a child-porn ring, but most of the men who've been arrested don't know each other, and only two of them made any porn, none of which was ever distributed to anyone else. If anything it's a child-porn duet.
Distinctions have completely collapsed. Seventeen-year-olds, at the height of their sexual vigour, are called "children." The reporting makes it sound like these angelic boys were all lured from their well-to-do nuclear families, when in factthey all, with maybe one or two exceptions, come from "broken, dysfunctional homes," to use the words of the court record. They found, usually with each other's help, gay men who would give them money and clothes, and in some cases places to stay.
This subculture of men and boys has been relentlessly attacked in London by three institutions acting in concert: the police, the social-welfare agencies, and the press.
In London, or any other city, you can easily find sixteen-year-old hookers -- girls -- who are never made to reveal the names of their clients and friends, nor are they protected and saved from ruin with anything like the enthusiasm that's being focused on boys.
I told you last week about the case of London police constable Jeffrey Gateman and his involvement with an unwilling, under-age prostitute, a girl, who claimed he'd forced her to have sex. After a police services board hearing, Constable Gateman was demoted for discreditable conduct, but no criminal charges were laid. Compare this case with the thirteen London men sent to jail for consensual sex with teenage boys.
The girl eventually convinced the justice of the peace to recommend that Gateman be charged. Gateman was summonsed to court, not arrested, and released without paying any bail. Bail in the cases involving boys was set as high as $160,000; in thirteen cases it was denied altogether.
Or compare the cases of Constable Alexander McPhee and high- school teacher Leo Brownell. Brownell was caught in the so-called porn investigations and charged with paying teenaged boys for sex. Constable McPhee, who was the charging officer in seven of the sex cases, was himself charged this summer with sexual touching involving a fourteen-year-old . . . girl.
His case is still pending (as is Brownell's), and meanwhile he's been assigned to inside office duties with the London police. Brownell, on the other hand, was "removed from his classroom" as soon as he was charged, and has now lost his job, having, as they say, "resigned by mutual consent."
A woman who works in one of London's social-welfare agencies told me: "It seems more imperative to punish the abuse of boys -- however that's defined -- than it is to punish the abuse of girls; and punishment by the courts for sex with boys is both more likely and more severe." London police chief Julian Fantino:
Julian Fantino [archival tape]: Once we saw the content of the tapes and the situations that presented there we felt duty-bound to pursue those to whatever degree we could.
Max Allen: The videotapes showed in-your-face teenage sex. The police saw them as evidence of crime, immorality, and victimization. But they were also evidence that contradicted the myth of teenage purity and innocence, and so they had to be confiscated, hidden, and finally destroyed. And the boys they depicted, and their friends, had to be taught the errors of their ways, to be made to confess and repent. This was an uphill struggle, and it involved what one reporter called "ground-breaking interviewing techniques."
Reporter [archival tape]: They've used some perhaps ground-breaking interviewing techniques to get these scared young victims to 'fess up and tell police what's been going on in this community.
Max Allen: The London police threatened to tell the boys' parents unless they cooperated -- and then they told them anyway. They promised the boys would never have to testify in court -- and most of them will have to testify. In Andrew Cunningham's case -- he's twenty-two now -- the police borrowed some clothes from the Salvation Army so he'd look presentable on the witness stand. The court victim-witness program has encouraged the boys to apply for provincial compensation, up to $25,000, for what's called their "victimization." In every case charges have not been laid against the younger partner, in order to preserve the idea that gay sex corrupts the young.
Here's an example from the interrogation of David Ashfield, age seventeen, by Constable Gary Smith:
David: "I'm supposed not to say anything unless my lawyer was here about my case or about anything that has to do with me anyways."
Constable Smith: "Okay. This is not about any charges against you. Okay? I'm asking about the guy you're living with. He was involved with acts of masturbation with you, or fellatio?"
Q: "What about intercourse?"
A: "Mm, him? No, no."
Q: "You're telling me that he never did -- never had anal intercourse with you?"
Q: "Why -- why does he -- why does he lead me to believe that you guys have?"
A: "I don't know. Ask him."
Q: "I mean, you've committed no offences with him, okay? If he's had intercourse with you, he's committed an offence. Do you realize that?"
(Actually, this is wrong. Both parties break the law when there's anal intercourse under eighteen.)
Constable Smith: "I'd like to get the truth from you about that, and I've got to ask you, has he had intercourse with you? Simple question."
David: "Yeah, probably."
Constable Smith: "And how many times would that have happened over the two years?"
A: "I don't know."
Q: "Like, once?"
A: "I don't count."
Q: "Yeah, but once or ten times or a hundred?"
A: "I don't know."
Q: "Well, could you put a ball-park figure on it?"
A: "No, not really."
Constable Smith: "Well, is it more than ten or more than a hundred?"
David: "More than a hundred? No. I don't know. Say ten then."
Smith: "Okay, ten."
David: "What the hell."
Smith: "So I know this is embarrassing for you, but I don't believe you had a choice in the matter. I believe that he manipulated you into these acts."
David: "No he didn't."
Q: "You don't think so? I mean, he's a man of how old?"
A: "I could have said no if I wanted to."
Q: "Yeah, but he's twenty-eight."
A: "Yeah. So?"
Q: "And you're a kid of what? Fifteen? Sixteen? Seventeen?"
Q: "Do you not think it's weird for him to be having sex with a person of your age?"
Q: "That's what I'm getting at. You know, he's twenty-six, you're sixteen, or seventeen, at times fifteen. It's, you know, to me, like, he's used you for these acts. That's what I'm getting at. Did you ever feel used by him?"
David: "Sometimes, I guess."
The social-welfare agencies, especially the Children's Aid Society and the London Family Court Clinic, cooperated with the police to establish the meaning and significance of these events. Maureen Reid is director of the sexual-abuse intervention program at the London Children's Aid Society.
Maureen Reid: Early on, when the police identified that they had tapes with children on them, they joined with us to try to identify who some of those children were. We haven't done joint interviews with the police too often; we're beginning to do that in this case, but we were sort of collaborating and sharing and talking about mutual concerns around some of the children who were being identified.
Max Allen: And then they made a surprising discovery.
Maureen Reid: We had identified pretty quickly that -- I believe at the time there were fifty victims identified and we knew half of them. This was before the discovery of the additional 850 tapes, and the whole investigation changed again after that.
Max Allen: But those 800 new tapes are all commercial tapes [not made in London].
Maureen Reid: Yes, they are. And I think that the police have now sort of recognized that. But when the tapes were discovered and they didn't realize that, that's when there was the additional manpower [added], and the manpower from our agency was put in place as well.
But we had identified early on that we knew approximately twenty-two of these families that we had been involved with for other reasons. We didn't realize that this activity was going on.
Max Allen: So, all of the twenty-two boys known to the Children's Aid Society had kept quiet about their sexual activities. But after the discovery was made, the social-welfare people went into action. One of their jobs was to help the police and the courts by preparing what are called "victim-impact statements."
The statements that are usually seen in court are written by the victims themselves and describe how they've been affected by crime. These are public documents, sometimes read out in court. But in London an innovative new kind of victim-impact statement is being used, written not by the victim but by therapists and other professionals, who listen to the victim's version of the story, and then write down what they think it means. Alison Cunningham, research coordinator at the London Family Court Clinic:
Alison Cunningham: There's two types of victim-impact statements: the kind that we do here are different. They're done by clinicians who have a lot of experience in child development and child victimization. They would talk with the kids about their impressions of what happened to them and then they would put a clinical interpretation upon what they were told.
Max Allen: The psychological analyses and interpretations in the victim-impact statements are often quite lengthy. Here are excerpts from two of them, from boys caught up in the London investigations. This is from the victim-impact statement prepared about Randy Flynn, age eighteen.
"Randy is acutely aware of his role [in the police investigation] and feels ambivalent and fearful about the implications for himself as a victim. He estimates that he made on average between $15,000 and $20,000 a year, for the first two years, with his primary contacts being Mr. G. and Mr. J. Randy suggests that one motivation for his continued involvement was the economic hardships that his family faces. He says that although he was careful never to hand over enough money to arouse suspicion, he frequently helped his parents by giving them small sums of money.
"Clinical findings: In order to safely address the impact of the extensive sexual exploitation and abuse to which he's been subjected, Randy would require long-term therapy.
"Randy appears to have an intense need to attempt to normalize the activities in which he's been involved for the past four years. He is a tall, slim, attractive young man, with shoulder-length, layered, slightly wavy, fair hair. He describes himself as a hustler, who has sex with males for money. He rejects any suggestion that his own orientation would lead him to choose same-sex partners, saying that he would never voluntarily have sex with another male unless money was involved."
Now, it's not the job of the therapists who prepare these statements to cross-examine the boys about the stories they tell, but those stories are sometimes questionable. This is Randy Flynn's friend Mike Newman. They've known each other for thirteen years.
Mike Newman: We'd enjoy it because we were friends at the time. And we both didn't have a girlfriend at the time, so that's why we did it.
Max Allen: "It" is the sex Randy and Mike were having together.
Mike Newman: But now that -- since I have my own girlfriend I don't do it anymore. I don't know if he still does it or not, but as far as I know I think he does, because the last time he was here he tried something on me and I told him I couldn't do it no more.
I smoked dope with him and he came in my bedroom and he tried some stuff on me, and I said, "I can't do this." [He said] "Why? We were best friends. We did this for a long time." And Isaid, "Well, I can't do it anymore, because I've got a girlfriend now and I don't want to start this back up again." He goes, "Okay, I understand."
Max Allen: I'd like you to hear excerpts from one of the other statements. This one concerns Jason Springer, who was the second youngest of the boys involved in the so-called pornography ring.
"Jason's family has had a lengthy involvement with the Children's Aid Society. His mother was apprehended and made a ward of the Children's Aid Society when she was thirteen, as a result of physical and sexual abuse within her own home. Jason was born when his mother was seventeen; his brother was born two years later.
"Jason's mother, Ms. B., was concerned about over-disciplining the boys and losing control on occasion. In November 1992 Jason and his brother were apprehended by the Children's Aid Society and placed in a foster home for a short period of time, as a result of their mother's intoxication and her partner's violence.
"Clinical findings: Jason is a well-spoken, attractive youth who has experienced a chaotic family background, characterized by turbulent parental relationships, alcoholism, and financial stress. This family has required the intervention and ongoing involvement of the CAS over many years.
"Jason is quite guarded in talking about [his sexual activities with men and boys] and attempts to distance himself from the memory of these events. He can recount, in an emotionally detached manner, the circumstances of the abuse ... [but] his coping strategy for dealing with his trauma is to block any affect, which in turn allows him to avoid the pain.
"A boy looking to older male figures for emotional support and reassurance was clearly victimized by men who used him sexually. ... A danger for a boy like Jason is that he could identify with such men and assume similar emotional attitudes and characteristics with respect to other persons in hislife. His relationship with his mother has been further eroded by [his sexual exploitation] and she is currently the brunt of most of his angry feelings.
"The corruption of this young boy's moral attitudes and values has directly resulted from sexual victimization and it will require extensive 'reprogramming' of his belief system in order to change his views about relationships."
There is a contest in London over what the experience of these boys means. Often the boys are on one side and the professionals on the other. Often the boys refuse to talk, which is interpreted as denial, depression, or victimization.
John Ferguson: I think the police are intent to discredit gay people in every possible way.
Max Allen: That was John Ferguson, one of the men charged in London for paying a hustler. This is former hustler Scott Baldwin:
Scott Baldwin: I think the police have sort of extended it because of people being gay and not straight.
Max Allen: Ray Butler, arrested for giving young men food, shelter, and money, in exchange for sex:
Ray Butler: In any city in Canada the bond between men and boys will continue, and boys will seek out what they need from older men.
Max Allen: But in this case men and boys both are in jail in large numbers.
Ray Butler: Yes, but they will be replaced by another wave of boys and another wave of men. Society should realize right now that they're never going to change human sexuality through law.
Max Allen: The prosecution of homosexuality has a very long history. In Europe and North America, repression and tolerance follow each other in waves. But tolerance never means approval, only turning a blind eye, a sort of social contract "not to notice."
And then, usually in times when the world is being turned upside-down for other reasons, and the social contract is being revised, homosexual behaviour is suddenly in the spotlight; activities that were going on quite undisturbed are jerked into prominence.
Toulouse, in southern France, 1318: The Inquisition, which is in place to enforce religious orthodoxy, is surprised to find out about a subculture of men having sex with each other. It's estimated there may be a thousand of them -- in a city a tenth the size of London, Ontario.
Amsterdam, 1730: Homosexual activity comes to light. The provincial court of Holland declares it's necessary "to exterminate this vice to the bottom, following the most extraordinary and accidental discovery of a tangle of ungodliness." Between 1730 and 1732 at least seventy-five men are put to death.
The Dutch system was very much different from ours, but a man with a kind of "chief of police" power is behind one of the great investigations. In 1731 he has more than thirty farm men and boys arrested on sodomy charges. Twenty-two of them are condemned to death. The means of execution in Holland include "hanging, garroting, decapitation, breaking on a wheel, and drowning in a barrel of water."
The drama requires a public spectacle of denunciation and repentance. Men have to plead guilty before they are killed. Torture is often required to get them to do it.
What's happening in London, Ontario today is small potatoes compared to the pandemonium in Amsterdam following 1730, but the impulse behind it is similar. It's to suppress, in the words of the court of Holland, "a tangle of ungodliness."
The concept of adolescence hadn't been invented in 1730, so the Dutch investigation didn't separate its targets into men and boys. Teenagers and grownups were all of a piece. We, on the other hand, think of teenagers as a distinct kind of people, and we categorize them either as adults or children, depending on whether we hate them as offenders or love them as innocent victims. Calling them "children" in London means they're going to symbolize innocence, which will be handy in mobilizing feelings against anybody who threatens them. In Europe, gypsies were feared because they might kidnap children. Jews were feared because they might kill them. And in our time, homosexual men are feared because they might defile them.
The American historian Estelle Friedman has written about the "invention" of a kind of criminal called the sexual psychopath. In the thirties, forties, and fifties the sexual psychopath (driven by uncontrollable urges -- and of course male) became what Friedman calls "a malleable symbol for popular fears about the consequences of the new sexual values." That role -- and you see it clearly in London -- has been taken over today by men whose sexual interest and behaviour crosses the fluid boundary of adolescence.
Of course, there are real criminals who brutalize children too young to resist, too naïve to know better, too trapped and disempowered to have any say in what happens to them. The Mount Cashel disaster comes to mind. And residential schools for aboriginal children. And young people everywhere -- girls mostly -- with no place to turn when what passes for their family turns them into playthings.
These disgusting situations are not, as far as I can tell, what's going on in London.
There's a search in London for reasons, external reasons, why kids might engage in gay sex, reasons like a child-pornography ring, which serves as a kind of creation myth explaining how all this happened.
Ontario, 1994: Teenage sex, here as everywhere, is out of control; and gay sex is breaking newground as well. This summer a bill is narrowly defeated in the Ontario legislature that would give same-sex couples some of the same rights held by male-female couples. A very old boundary, carefully maintained and policed, was about to disappear. A line between acceptable and unacceptable sex was in danger of dissolving. Where could it be redrawn?
And how can the recent emergence of homosexuality into public life and public discourse be controlled? Can all these now visible men and boys be integrated into society without having everything collapse?
In London the public agencies face a hard question: Are the boys really, "underneath it all" -- that is, underneath their behaviour -- really pure and innocent, and it's therefore up to the therapists, our new priests, to get them to confess and to get them back to a state of grace? Or are the boys actually just what they appear to be, and the therapeutic objective is to change them? If so, how much force can be applied?
Picture this. London police chief Julian Fantino calls a press conference. He peers out from behind stacks of videotapes piled up like mountains around him. The child-porn investigation has pretty much run out of steam; they say they're about to wrap it up. And then, suddenly, as they go to arrest a high-school teacher for paying for sex, they discover this mountain of porn. It's May 31, 1994.
Julian Fantino: And as a result of that particular arrest we have seized over 800 video cassette tapes. Everything has to be as yet investigated; all these tapes and all these photographs and all these records have to be meticulously examined so as to identify the victims, the people involved, and then begin a process of locating them and interviewing them, and then proceeding further. So this is a very, very labour-intensive, very time-consuming kind of an initiative.
Max Allen: The media reaction is what you'd expect:
Audio collage of radio reports
Max Allen: Two problems have been gnawing at the London police. First, they've been working day and night for months on the sex investigation and thousands of hours of unpaid overtime have accumulated -- unpaid because Ontario's new social contract legislation strictly controls the budgets of public agencies.
The chief of police also has a public-relations problem. The relentless publicity about the cesspool of porn that London has apparently become has civic leaders concerned. The Free Press headline reads: "Fantino Worried That City's Reputation Has Been Unfairly Tarnished by Arrests."
There's a solution: recast the London situation as a child-exploitation ring; call it a province-wide issue; and convince the province to pay for the investigation ("exploitation" being a nearly limitless problem). Ontario's solicitor-general announces he'll act. A provincial group with at least ten police officers will be set up in London, with secret terms of reference and a secret budget, headed by a policeman well-known to many in London's gay community.
It's those 800 tapes seized from teacher Leo Brownell that did it.
The trouble is, they weren't child pornography. What they were, an inside source tells me, is mostly Hollywood movies, National Geographic specials, and programs taped off television.
None of the 800 tapes has been charged. What has been charged in the haul from Leo Brownell's house is one eight-millimetre film, some albums ofsnapshots, and some gay magazines of the sort you can buy in bookstores.
What touched off "Operation Guardian" -- that's what Project Scoop was renamed after it got provincial funding -- was not pornography but rather a public-relations image: a picture of a mountain of tapes.
A friend of mine asked me the other day to "synthesize" the London story for him. "Tell me what it's all about in a few words," he said. I couldn't. There's nothing simple about it. Telling a simple story is what the police, the press, and the social-welfare people have been trying to do. It seems to me that the resulting story -- the urban legend about a child-pornography ring -- is radically incomplete. It doesn't help anybody understand what's going on: that in London there are good boys and rascals, kind men and scumbags, honest professionals and opportunists, just like in the rest of the world.
The real picture of London is still grainy and indistinct, a kind of inkblot test that you can make up all kinds of stories about.
Lister Sinclair: These programs about The Trials of London are part of an IDEAS series about the regulation of sex and images called "The Bedrooms of the Nation". The producer is Max Allen, with research by Joseph Couture. Series consultant: York University historian Jay Cassel. I'm Lister Sinclair.
More in the Trials of London series:
Printed transcripts of the four programmes in this IDEAS series are available from:
Transcripts of programmes 1 and 2 are available on the Internet. Find IDEAS through the CBC Radio's homepage: www.radio.cbc.ca
Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
The newsgroup for CBC radio schedules, questions and answers is alt.radio.networks.cbc
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