RCMP have been holding back millions of dollars from the force's vaunted program to fight online child pornography, partly to help the Harper government pay down the federal deficit.

CBC News has learned that over a five-year period, Canada's national police force Mounties withheld some $10 million in funds earmarked for its National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre and related projects, linchpins of the government's anti-child-pornography agenda.

The cuts, made partly as an RCMP contribution to the government's so-called deficit reduction action plan, have occurred even as the number of child-exploitation tips from the public increase exponentially.

The systematic underfunding is highlighted in a draft report prepared for Public Safety Canada, and obtained through the Access to Information Act.

The document, dated November last year, says the RCMP failed to spend its full $8-million annual budget to catch online child abusers throughout the five-year period ending in 2013.

Signy Arnason

Signy Arnason, director of Cybertip.ca, a national tip line to report the online sexual exploitation of children, says the RCMP and other forces have been overwhelmed with tips from the public. A new report says the Mounties have been underfunding their anti-child-exploitation work. (CBC)

"RCMP expenditures fell short of allocations by an average of about $2,000,000 (or about 26 per cent) per year," says the partly censored document.

"RCMP program and Finance staff indicated that the RCMP's systematic budget reset and re-allocation contributed to this situation, which resulted in reduced resources available."

The report says the Conservative government's 2011 deficit reduction action plan or DRAP, an initiative to chop $4 billion from government spending by this year, was partly to blame for the reduced spending to fight child porn.

About 40,000 tips are received each year through Cybertip.ca, said Signy Arnason, a director of the national tip service run by the charity Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

"The numbers have gone up exponentially," she said in an interview, a fourfold increase from the 10,000 tips received in 2012.

'Enormous issue'

NDP MP Randall Garrison

New Democrat MP Randall Garrison, the NDP opposition critic for public safety, slammed the Harper government for skimming money from an initiative designed to halt the burgeoning exploitation of children online. (ndp.ca)

"What I can say in general terms about law enforcement is that we know they're overwhelmed and inundated with this information, and have a huge backlog of cases that they're trying to deal with, and it's an enormous issue."

The NDP opposition critic for public safety slammed the Harper government for skimming money from an initiative designed to halt the burgeoning exploitation of children online.

"This government initially allocated funds for this and then cuts them back, and now what we find in this report is that the RCMP wasn't even able to spend the funds that were actually allocated," MP Randall Garrison said in an interview.

'This government initially allocated funds for this and then cuts them back.' - Randall Garrison, NDP critic for public safety

"So at a time when the tip lines are receiving huge numbers of tips, the RCMP hasn't put the resources toward actually following those up."

A spokeswoman for Public Safety, Josee Sirois, said "we can confirm that RCMP did not spend the full budget allocated to the National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre."

"This was in large part due to human resources challenges, including selecting appropriate candidates, high attrition due to the nature of the work, and high qualification standards," she said in an email Thursday. "In recent years, the RCMP has reduced this spending gap through the creation of additional positions, more training opportunities and technological investments coming online."

A spokesman for the Mounties, Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, declined to comment on the report, saying the force won't answer questions about a document still in draft form.

"As the report has not been released, the RCMP will not comment," he said.

The draft evaluation by Public Safety examined the effectiveness of the government's National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the internet, covering the period  2008-13. The strategy dates from 2004, under a Liberal government, but has been retained under the Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda since they formed government in 2006.

The initiative is currently run by Public Safety, the RCMP, Justice Canada and the federally supported Canadian Centre for Child Protection. The last review of the program, in July 2008, also found the Mounties systematically spending between 20  and 40 per cent less than its budget.

Trouble handling tips

The latest report says the RCMP is "having difficulty actionning a high percentage of the tips coming in from Cybertip.ca. A detailed case review to determine the source and causes of this issue could not be completed as part of this evaluation."

One festering issue is an RCMP-run computer system, known as the Child Exploitation Tracking System or CETS, which has had numerous development setbacks that were also noted in the 2008 review.

"Most law enforcement agencies were critical of the tracking system, suggesting it had not lived up to expectations or achieved full functionality, and required law enforcement agencies to enter information already entered in other police systems," investigators found.

The evaluation also determined that the National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre was becoming  less efficient in processing the tips it received.

The report echoed the findings of the 2008 report in suggesting the RCMP may also be having difficulty recruiting and retaining officers, because online child exploitation is "a psychologically demanding field of law enforcement specialization."

Since 2006, the RCMP has been consistently underspending its budget for all its services by hundreds of millions of dollars – $335 million in 2012-13 alone, when federal deficit-cutting measures kicked into high gear.

In December, following the Oct. 22 shootings on Parliament Hill, a Mountie spokesman confirmed that officers had been reallocated from other areas, such as organized crime, to beef up national security.

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With files from David McKie