As the number of files continues to reach new highs, charges remain stationary, according to the provincial coordinator of the Saskatchewan internet child exploitation (ICE) unit.
Staff Sgt. Scott Lambie said investigators had their heaviest caseload to date in 2020 with 737 files, up from 528 the previous year.
“It’s a really remarkable year, actually. This is the busiest year yet … I thought it would be about 100 less than that based on our previous estimates but it just took off,” Lambie said on Wednesday.
“Once again, every year in the past six years has basically been a record year. Thirty per cent over the previous year and now this … so basically up three and a half times in the last six years.”
Lambie said 2020 was one the busier years in the number of people the unit charged.
“About 39 people were charged and that’s about average. That’s about all the unit can maintain. We can only do so much work and that’s about our limit,” he said.
“But it’s the amount that’s coming in the door versus how much the unit can sustain. And we can sustain charging about 40 people a year would be about our max.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province in March 2020, Lambie said complaints briefly slowed.
“Everything sort of got locked down, especially here in Saskatchewan, March, April-ish, our actual complaints coming in the door also decreased,” he said.
“But after April, May, late May, June, it just took off. We just got complaints galore and that’s when all these lurings started rolling in and everything like that so it’s been substantially busy.
“Luring investigations were quite high … I’m going to attribute that, just myself, to probably everybody being at home. The pedophiles are at home and the kids are at home. They’ve got this Internet platform where they’re all going to mingle and, of course, all the offences are going to stem from that.”
Lambie said the steadily rising caseload has put stress on the unit and led to prioritization.
“We’ve had to definitely determine what we can actually work on because we’re not going to be able to work on everything. We’ve got to prioritize and only take the most serious of the serious offences,” he said.
“Unfortunately, that means there’s a lot of pedophiles still roaming Saskatchewan that are not going to get touched.
“We’re going to bump to the top of the (priority) list, the ones with actual victims … just cause there are children involved and it sort of downgrades people just being in possession of child pornography. Unfortunately, I have to say it that way but like I say, there’s only so much work we can do.”
Lambie’s advice for guardians to help protect children from luring is to be aware of what they’re doing online.
“Whether it be with a phone or a computer because there is so much potential for them to get exploited by unknown assailants,” he said.
“This exploitation will continue into extortion and then they’re going to get their pictures out there and then nude pictures and then they’re going to end up in a more serious situation.
“If the parents could just … ask their kids, what are you doing online? What apps are you using? Who are you talking to? Are these real friends or other Internet friends and just know what they’re up to. It just gives the parents a little bit more security to try and keep their kids safe.”
The ICE unit has been around for since 2009 and consists of 11 members from RCMP, Regina Police Service, Saskatoon Police Service and Prince Albert Police Service.
“There are lots of competing priorities for policing dollars and we’re just one of the many units out there. I’m sure every policing unit could use more resources but we just work with what we got,” Lambie said.
“This year, I’m going to relinquish the provincial coordinator responsibility … It’s a very busy unit.”
The unit’s mandate is to investigate crimes involving the abuse and exploitation of children on the Internet.