Thank you. Just by way of introduction, my name is Scott Naylor, and I'm the manager of the child sexual exploitation section with the Ontario Provincial Police.
I will be reading from some notes here. Mr. Chair, Madam Clerk, and justice sector colleagues, good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on Bill C-54, the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act.
From the perspective of the Ontario Provincial Police and members of the provincial strategy to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation on the Internet, this bill has the potential to add to the legislative tools we've been provided to keep our communities and our citizens safe, particularly the most vulnerable section of our population, our children. I'll say more about the provincial strategy in a moment.
Investigating child sexual abuse is what I consider to be one of the toughest and most heartbreaking, yet one of the most rewarding assignments a police officer can ever experience. The members of the OPP Child Sexual Exploitation section and our municipal and provincial government partners who investigate child luring, sexual abuse, and exploitation on the Internet work exceedingly hard to protect children and to identify victims from the most heinous activities imaginable. There is no greater satisfaction than to be able to secure the safety of our children and remove them from the harm, abuse, and exploitation they face through Internet predators.
Child luring, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse on the Internet is organized crime, plain and simple. The provincial strategy to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation on the Internet was created in response to the Government of Ontario's request that police develop a coordinated, province-wide approach to combat Internet crimes against children. The goal of the provincial strategy was for the province to respond to this growing issue as a cohesive, united team, rather than having municipal police services develop different approaches to deal with child pornography, luring, and sexual abuse on the Internet.
Police services in Ontario, through the OACP—the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police—and the OPP, subsequently developed a systematic, victim-driven, all-encompassing approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation on the Internet. The provincial strategy aims to effectively address the complete picture of child sexual abuse and exploitation, from the onset of the investigation to offender apprehension and management, effective prosecution and sentencing, victim identification support, and prevention and awareness.
Prior to the provincial strategy, there was no mechanism in place for the vital coordination of intelligence and for investigative support and information sharing. The OPP child sexual exploitation section administers the provincial strategy. The strategy consists of 54 officers from the OPP and 18 municipal police services, with representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of the Attorney General, including two designated crown attorneys and a victim services coordinator. Other municipal police services in Ontario have also been involved in assisting with investigations and in making arrests in their respective communities as well.
I can state without question that the investigators assigned to this duty are among the most committed and professional police officers you will find anywhere. They are united by a single purpose: to protect children from being lured into dangerous situations by Internet predators.
Our investigations have also required recent interaction and participation from law enforcement agencies in Canada, and abroad from such agencies as Interpol and including jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, and South America. This global activity matches the way legitimate commercial business is done today in Ontario and in Canada. The exception is that the commodity being traded among these borderless criminals is living, breathing human beings— children in Ontario, Canada, and around the world, children of our communities.
The Internet-based dangers of child luring, sexual exploitation, and abuse are so pervasive that it takes excellence in police work and multi-jurisdictional partnerships to ensure successful investigations. It also takes collaboration with our broader justice-sector partners to bring these criminals to justice. It also takes strong partners who are united by a single goal, to ensure that the victims are brought to safer environments and get the help and services they need and deserve.
Our relationships with our partner agencies are stronger than ever. I want to note our appreciation for the support of senior levels of government in providing us with the legislative tools and resources that we need. We could always use more, but your support is vital to our success. But we are not there yet.
Our caseloads from the past year are testament to that fact. From August 2006 to December 2010, members of the provincial strategy completed 11,537 investigations and laid 3,897 charges against 1,303 individuals. The age of those accused of these vile acts, predominantly male, range from mid-teens to those well past 60 years of age. As staggering as those numbers are, I am also able to report that through our investigations in 2010 and early this year, 121 victims have been identified and rescued. That means more children have been saved and are removed from dangerous situations.
Given the background from an investigative perspective, I'm here to support Bill C-54. The bill provides additional offences that can be laid by police officers that relate to the provision of sexually explicit material to children and the use of telecommunications like the Internet to facilitate the commission of sexual offences against children. These two offences are generally already known to investigators as contributing factors in most of the sexual abuse cases involving children that are already being investigated. However, these have only been considered as aggravating factors in a prosecution until now. While the new offences may have some implications in terms of increasing investigative time or processing charges, this legislation is very much needed and the OPP believes it will serve to better protect those who are most vulnerable, our children. The new offence with respect to providing sexually explicit material transforms what has been considered an aggravating factor in sentencing into an offence, which is also associated with mandatory minimum sentencing. The OPP supports the creation of this offence, given that pornographic materials are often one of the most commonly used methods in grooming children.
On the second new offence, with the evolution of technology the Internet is becoming one of the most commonly used means of luring children for the sole purpose of sexually abusing them. These factors are already part of many sexual abuse investigations, so only a minimal increase in terms of investigative time is likely to be required. While this offence may lead to new investigations where allegations of sexual abuse have not yet been made, this is not anticipated to be significant, and the offence offers increased protection to our children and our youth. The OPP supports increased minimum sentencing for child-specific offences, which eliminates conditional sentencing.
Strong deterrents are necessary as a first step to deter perpetrators from preying on our children, particularly those who are in a parental role or are responsible for children through kinship. The OPP welcomes the proposed new measures, which would require judges to consider conditions that would prohibit suspected, charged, or convicted child sexual offenders from having unsupervised contact with children, as well as unsupervised use of the Internet, when issuing a recognizance to such persons. This legislative change allows charges to be laid if there was an identified breach of this condition. It also puts the onus on the court to impose conditions that restrict Internet use or unsupervised contact with children upon receiving information. Not that long ago, a somewhat similar directive was made that required family court judges to consider past domestic violence prior to making any determination regarding custody and access.
Laws alone won't solve this problem, and we acknowledge that. In Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police, our police community, and media partners have also taken advantage of many opportunities to continue with the other sometimes forgotten prong of this initiative: education and raising awareness of our kids, their parents, guardians, and caregivers. We unashamedly use the media's help to reach them, and we've had great success in doing this over the last four years. Our private sector partners to keep children safe from harm include traditional media: YTV for one on the educational side with their interactive Internet safety games and promotional announcements. YTV's animated educational and Internet safety public service announcements have been viewed by over 8.75 million people. An initial Internet safety game was played by over 54,000 players, all young people. A second Internet safety game will be launched through YTV's website next week as we observe Safer Internet Day on February 8.
Our partners also include avenues of social media. Facebook Canada helped us with a recent enhancement of the Ontario amber alert so that it would reach even more people when a child is abducted.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're all committed to preventing abuse against children, from our skilled investigators to our technical support staff to front-line officers who execute warrants to the investigators who are called upon to view literally thousands and thousands of horrific images. We also count on our investigators and community service officers to be there to offer hope through greater education and greater awareness.
Members of the committee, thank you again for the opportunity to express our thoughts and suggestions from the front lines in the battle against Internet predators and for providing the opportunity to comment on potential new tools to make our children and our communities safer. I wish you every success in your deliberations on Bill C-54.
I'll leave you with this one quote: “Every child matters, everywhere.”