Saskatchewan ICE Unit gets more officers to deal with increasing child exploitation files

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan ICE Unit gets more officers to deal with increasing child exploitation files'
Saskatchewan ICE Unit gets more officers to deal with increasing child exploitation files
Seemingly every day, kids have access to new technology, whether it's video games, live-streaming or social media. Unfortunately, it offers predators new methods to victimize. Saskatchewan police are getting a boost to combat the problem – Mar 25, 2022

The coordinator for the Saskatchewan Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit has been a police officer for 24 years, but his current role is by far the most stressful, he said.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Stubbs leads the ICE Unit at a time when investigations into online child exploitation have increased every year since 2017. Last year, officers looked into a record 853 cases and expect to see even more in 2022.

“Right now, our investigators are working between 80 and 100 files each and it’s getting to the point where we just can’t get to every file,” Stubbs said in an interview. “It’s not humanly possible.”

Releasing the 2023-23 Saskatchewan budget Wednesday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced $220,000 in new funding for the ICE Unit to hire two new investigators “and allow them to further investigate and ultimately crack down on criminals who would target children.”

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Click to play video: 'Online Child Sexual Exploitation on the Rise in Canada'
Online Child Sexual Exploitation on the Rise in Canada

Once fully staffed, the ICE Unit will have five investigators in Regina, three in Saskatoon and two in Prince Albert. However, their work isn’t limited to provincial or even national borders.

In 2019, a parent contacted the Regina Police Service after growing concerned that an unknown person was trying to lure a 14-year-old girl online. The ICE investigation led officers to a youth care worker in Australia.

In September 2021, he was sentenced to five years in prison for numerous online child abuse offences.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection has seen a 37 per cent increase in reports of children being sexually victimized online.

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Advocates believe the increase is a result of children being connect to technology for longer hours, often relying on computers, tablets and other devices for school work, according to Signy Arnason, associate executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

“There’s no question that the offending community has taken advantage of these opportunities,” Arnason said in an interview.

Click to play video: 'Ask the Expert: Protecting your kids from online predators'
Ask the Expert: Protecting your kids from online predators

While parents need to be engaged in regular discussions with kids about online safety, Arnason said there is “no hope” of ending child online child victimization unless platforms are regulated.

“People are creating platforms where safety is an afterthought and the ones who are paying the biggest price for that are kids, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” Arnason said.

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She’d like to see tech giants incorporate “safety by design” and be mandated by governments into proactively scanning for child sexual abuse material.

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