18 Alberta men charged with online child pornography offences during COVID-19 pandemic
'This is a level of activity that has been unparalleled in the existence of the ICE unit'
Eighteen men from across Alberta are facing child pornography charges after police received a record number of online child sexual exploitation reports this spring.
Most of the charges came as the result of referrals from the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, which works with internet and social media providers to track and investigate online instances of child sexual exploitation, said a news release Friday from Alberta's Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT).
ALERT's Internet Child Exploitation unit received 243 reported instances of online child exploitation in Alberta in March, far exceeding the unit's two-year average of roughly 110.
"This is a level of activity that has been unparalleled in the existence of the ICE unit," said Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, ALERT CEO, in the release.
Lakusta attributed the increase to predators taking advantage of children who are online more often while home from school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"ICE is working incredibly hard to put predators behind bars, but we need parents to do their part and be vigilant of their kids' online activities," he said.
ALERT said there is no link between the suspects other than each was charged with at least one child pornography offence.
The men range in age from 18 to 74. One suspect was a young offender at the time of his arrest.
Seven are from the Edmonton area, four from the Calgary region, three from Lethbridge, two from Grande Prairie with others from Red Deer and Frog Lake.
ICE is an integrated team that includes members of the RCMP and the police services in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
The unit investigates offences involving child pornography, any computer-related child sexual abuse, child luring over the Internet, voyeurism involving victims under the age of 18, and child sex trade/tourism.