RCMP Action Against Online Child Sexual Exploitation
Date: March 30, 2021
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: RCMP
RCMP action against online child sexual exploitation
- Public Safety Canada works closely with key partners, including the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre, as well as law enforcement agencies domestically and internationally, to combat the sexual exploitation of children online.
- The National Child Exploitation Crime Centre has subject matter experts with strong, specialized skill sets who assess every report and investigate to the fullest extent possible based on available evidence.
- Investigations into these crimes are more complex as a result technological advancements, such as the Dark Web, the widespread adoption of encryption and anonymity tools.
- The RCMP also continues to face significant operational challenges, as the volume of cases greatly outstrip capacity and cases are becoming increasingly complex. The RCMP assesses every report upon intake but must prioritize based on a number of factors, including indications that a child is at immediate risk or other time-sensitive factors.
- The RCMP will continue to investigate online child sexual exploitation crimes to the fullest extent possible, collaborate with domestic and international partners, identify and remove victims from harm, conduct operational research, and examine new technical solutions to enhance this work.
The RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC) is largely responsible for all incoming and outgoing online child sexual exploitation reported offences within Canada. For context, this represents a diverse and large quantity of technically complex investigations from various sources, notably, with just over 100,000 incoming referrals in 2019. The NCECC is committed to providing secure technological tools to receive and assess these reports in a timely fashion. This is done by a team of diverse subject matter experts who take into consideration the viability and urgency of each file and perform the necessary investigative steps to move these investigations forward to the police of jurisdiction. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risk to children, as offenders have taken advantage of the fact that children are spending more time online, often unsupervised. From March to May 2020, covering the time COVID-19 shutdown measures were initially imposed to when report numbers peaked, the NCECC recorded an approximate 36% increase in reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation.
Senior Investigators within the NCECC’s Triage Unit provide a 24-hour service and are responsible for the assessment of every single report that comes through the NCECC both to assess the viability and urgency of the matter. The NCECC has a group of senior investigators who are responsible for taking a multitude of investigative steps. A key function of the NCECC is to prepare and send out investigational packages to the police agency of jurisdiction. Investigational packages vary by case, but typically contain a File Disposition Report (FDR), Administrative Subpoena (if applicable), an investigator’s general report, Jurisdictional Requests (if submitted), geo-location results (when applicable), all other supporting evidence (e.g. images, videos, chats, etc.) and all agency reports (e.g. NCMEC, Cybertip.ca, or other law enforcement agencies) that are related to the specific offence. In some cases, investigational packages include numerous reports, if related to the same suspect. In addition to these investigational packages, the NCECC also intakes and disseminates high volumes of reports received from Internet Service Providers under the Mandatory Reporting Act. Most these reports are not investigated within the NCECC, however they are forwarded to law enforcement of jurisdiction, primarily international law enforcement, as investigative leads and for further action.
NCECC senior investigators work closely with our international law enforcement counterparts as well as the RCMP’s international network of Liaison Officers. Significant effort has been made over the years to help build both these relationships and to develop capacity to ensure that at any given time the RCMP is able to share information internationally with confidence that it will be placed with an appropriate and competent investigative team.
The NCECC also leverages its specialized teams to provide significant support to domestic and international law enforcement services in some of the more complex investigations, including a Victim Identification unit. Further to this, the NCECC also has a dedicated team specializing in Transnational Child Sex Offenders who work collaboratively with strategic International law enforcement partners, largely when it has been suspected that there is a concern of a Canadian who has travelled abroad to commit a sex offence against a child. Finally, the NCECC also has research and intelligence teams that support the specialized investigative teams closely in many ways.
In 2019, the NCECC received just over 100,000 reports. These reports were assessed and resulted in approximately 11,376 investigational packages being sent to law enforcement agencies of jurisdiction within Canada and abroad. In addition, approximately 63,000 of the 100,000 reports were forwarded to law enforcement, primarily internationally, as investigative leads. Most of the remaining reports were deemed to be unactionable. In 2019, 362 Canadian victims were identified and uploaded to the Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation Database, an increase of 32% from the previous year.
The NCECC receives reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation from a number of different sources. The majority of referrals come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the United States, while other sources include: Canadian industry partners (Internet service providers who submit reports to the NCECC under the Mandatory Reporting Act); Cybertip.ca (Canada’s public tipline operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection); other law enforcement agencies (domestic or international), other RCMP Divisions along with other sources. The NCECC works closely with police services across Canada and abroad by providing expertise to assist investigations when the RCMP is not the police of jurisdiction.
Virtual Global Taskforce
The NCECC, on behalf of the RCMP, is the current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT). Established in 2004, the VGT represents an international alliance dedicated to protecting children from online sexual exploitation and transnational child sex offences. The success of the VGT is largely attributed to the strong international partnerships between the current VGT members, which includes law enforcement agencies, industry partners, and non-governmental partners. The NCECC is heavily engaged in the VGT and in the engagement of industry through this forum, whose strategic goals, as supported by NGOs and industry partners, include: the pursuit of those who sexually exploit and abuse children; the prevention of people becoming involved in child sexual exploitation and abuse; the protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse; and, the preparation of interventions to reduce the impact of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Gaps and challenges
Although the RCMP received additional funding in 2018 to enhance its online child sexual exploitation capacity, the RCMP continues to face significant operational challenges, as the volume of cases greatly outstrip capacity. In addition to high volumes of reports, online child sexual exploitation cases have become increasing complex. Technological advancements, such as encryption, the dark web, and anonymity tools have made it significantly easier for offenders to operate undetected by law enforcement. Investigations relating to online platforms also raise a host of other issues relating to the Internet, such as jurisdictional issues, lack of data retention by platforms, the volume and speed at which content can be posted and disseminated, and the ability for users to download the hosted material. As content is successfully removed from one platform, it can quite easily be uploaded to the same platform or other websites, which results in ongoing re-victimization and a proliferation of child sexual exploitation material across a multitude of platforms. Each of those additional uploads could constitute a criminal code offence, however, law enforcement cannot investigate every one of those instances. It is well-known that offenders safeguard material on personal devices or through cloud service. The RCMP would benefit from increased capacity in several areas, including investigations, training, research and intelligence. The RCMP would also benefit from receiving basic subscriber information (BSI) with reports obtained in accordance with the Mandatory Reporting Act, so as to minimize delays in law enforcement’s ability to identify offenders and rescue victims from harm.
Every day RCMP employees demonstrate relentless dedication – willingly risking their own health and wellness by viewing this abhorrent material in order to protect children. The RCMP’s NCECC is steadfastly committed to protecting children, investigating crimes, and bringing offenders to justice.
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