Online child exploitation cases in Alberta spiked 50% in 2020 over previous year, police say

With incidents of online child exploitation on the rise in Alberta, parents need to step up their efforts at protecting their children, according to a specialized unit of Alberta's Law Enforcement Teams (ALERT) that focuses on those crimes.

In 2020, the Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit logged a record number of new investigations. It had over 2,100 intakes — an increase of more than 50 per cent from the previous year, the organization said in a release to mark International Safer Internet Day.

ICE made 127 arrests and laid 399 charges across Alberta related to online child exploitation last year.

"The pandemic has produced new standards of social engagement and digital learning, but we must confront the dark reality that there is no shortage of online predators looking to exploit and harm your children," said Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, CEO of Alberta Law Enforcement Teams.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has several tips for parents:

  • Teach children to check with a parent before texting or chatting online.

  • Explain to children that not everyone is who they say they are online.

  • Tell children that if they encounter something troubling online, they can tell you without fear of getting in trouble.

Anyone with information about an online child exploitation offence is encouraged to contact local police or cybertip.ca.

Ottawa announced Tuesday that it will provide an additional $1.2 million for the ICE units in Alberta. This funding will go to the Calgary and Edmonton police services, whose officers form part of the ICE teams, said Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair during a virtual news conference.

"It will allow them to increase their hiring and training to ensure the province's ICE units can meet the growing demand for their services," he said.

Deputy Chief Paul Cook of the Calgary Police Service said the extra money will make a difference in the fight against online child exploitation.

"We will be able to increase our capacity to conduct sophisticated investigations by hiring additional resources and training investigators to keep current with advances in technology," he said.

"These are highly complex investigations that span provincial and even international borders."