OTTAWA - Canadian police lack the resources to keep pace with the burgeoning threat to children from online sexual predators, federal officials have warned the public safety minister.
An internal briefing note to Ralph Goodale says digital child pornography poses increasing challenges for criminal justice agencies.
The problem is fuelled by the growth of technology allowing online anonymity, new legal hurdles for police and easier travel to places where children can be abused and photographed, the note says.
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the February memo under the Access to Information Act.
It says although data is limited, some believe online child sexual exploitation has reached "a level of epidemic proportions" that if left largely unaddressed will have devastating consequences for generations of children in Canada and abroad.
"It is therefore essential that the government work with partners and stakeholders to gain a thorough understanding of all the challenges and identify what is needed to tackle this significant threat."
The memo cites the case of British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after being sexually extorted online. The investigation led police to a man in the Netherlands accused of using more than 90 screen names to target over 75 victims.
Criminal justice statistics show incidents of child pornography and sexual violence against children increased in 2014 over the previous year despite an overall drop in the rate of violent crime.
Cybertip.ca, a national tipline to report suspected online sexual abuse of children, has also seen a rise in reporting — including increases with respect to the severity of the acts and images of very young children, the memo adds.
It outlines the many initiatives to target offenders, noting Canada has shown leadership in devising a national strategy, enacting criminal laws and supporting global efforts.
The RCMP is one of the very few Canadian police agencies dedicating resources to develop solutions and sustain undercover operations targeting technologically sophisticated offenders, the memo notes. "Current resources, however, cannot keep pace with the changing scope of the issue."
Pornographers are using digital techniques to shield their identities and communications as they distribute illicit images around the globe.
In addition, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that police need judicial authorization to obtain subscriber data linked to online activities.
Civil libertarians applauded the Supreme Court ruling amid public concern about authorities gaining access to customer information with little evident scrutiny or oversight.
Even so, the memo says the new restriction is "causing investigative delays and, in some instances, results in cases being abandoned because thresholds for judicial orders cannot be met."
The government is constantly updating its policies and tools because of ever-changing technologies, said Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale.
"Public Safety, the RCMP, academics and others continue to study these complicated questions," he said. "We are committed to keeping Canadians safe while respecting their rights and freedoms."
In addition, the government is conducting a broad review to assess whether the RCMP has sufficient resources to carry out its mandate, he noted.
"We look forward to the findings of that review."