VANCOUVER - For sale: Week-old baby, $10,000.
A B.C. grandmother was browsing the popular classifieds website Craigslist last Friday when she came across the shocking ad that prompted her to call police. "A new baby girl, seven days old, healthy and very cute," read the ad. "Can't afford and unexpected. Looking for a good home. Please call ASAP."
Within hours of her call, officers tracked the number of a stolen cellphone listed in the ad to an apartment in downtown Vancouver.
When officers arrived, they found four adults inside, including the 26-year-old father and the 23-year-old mother breastfeeding the baby. Police didn't identify the couple.
"Of course, the first thing out of their mouth is, they said it was just a hoax," Const. Tim Fanning, of the Vancouver Police Department, told a news conference on Tuesday.
"Only they know whether it was truly a hoax or not. If they had a viable bite from somebody that came, who knows what could have happened."
The baby's parents were initially arrested and later released, though police say they are still contemplating charges.
The baby was removed from the home, but the provincial children's minister wouldn't say where the child was Tuesday.
The woman who first came across the ad said she was horrified when she saw it, even though she assumed it was a fake.
"I was shaking, and I thought, 'Come on, how did this even get through?"' Marilyn Bateman, a 62-year-old grandmother of five living in Pitt Meadows, B.C., said in an interview.
"I said, well, somebody's got to do something, because what if it isn't (a fake)? Because if it is a hoax, somebody needs their wrist slapped."
Bateman, who was looking for furniture, phoned police and e-mailed them the ad, then left it at that.
"I was in bed, late, and a phone call came in from another detective saying that the girl was safe," she said. "And I went, 'Oh my gosh, thank God."'
Both parents were initially placed under arrest.
Fanning said the baby's mother was released at the scene. The father, who is from Port Coquitlam, B.C., was held on charges of mischief but later released without charges.
The baby was removed from the home by a special police unit that includes a social worker, and provincial authorities have now taken over the case, said Fanning.
The province's minister of children and family development, Tom Christensen, said he couldn't comment about the baby's whereabouts due to privacy laws.
"Any time anything like this comes to our attention, it's obviously of great concern and we work with the police to follow through on an investigation to try and identify the child and the parents and take appropriate action," Christensen said in Victoria.
Meanwhile, Fanning said police are still looking at possible charges.
"It's a very unique case, and we're not sure where we're going to go with it," said Fanning.
"There's so many questions here. It's very disturbing on many levels that somebody would think of putting something like that out there in the first place and we had to investigate it."
Fanning said the couple have a history of substance abuse and both have criminal records, though he said he couldn't be more specific.
The Craigslist ad has been removed.
A spokeswoman for Craigslist didn't answer questions about the specific case, but said the website takes steps to ensure users aren't breaking the law.
"Misuse of Craigslist for illegal purposes is absolutely unacceptable to us, and we will work together with law enforcement until the perpetrators have been brought to justice," Susan Best, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based site, said in an e-mail.
"Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for committing crime, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers will follow."
There have been similar cases around the world in recent years.
Most recently, police in Germany arrested a couple over the weekend after a seven-month-old boy was listed for auction on Ebay.
The mother told police the ad, which listed the baby for sale for one euro (about $1.56 Cdn), was a joke, but the baby is now in the care of youth services as police investigate the possibility of human trafficking.
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