ICE reports spike in online child exploitation cases in Alberta amid COVID-19 pandemic
The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams‘ Internet Child Exploitation unit (ICE) says the suspects were arrested between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2021, and each of the 24 people — including five men from Calgary and six from Edmonton — is charged with at least one child pornography offence:
- Michael Antonio, 25, from Calgary
- Curt Backlund, 48, from Grande Prairie
- Brad Bailey, 19, from Marlboro
- Brett Beer, 54, from Onoway
- Eric Bultmann, 30, from Calgary
- Kevin Dykstra, 35, from Barrhead
- Brian Harrison, 35, from Calgary
- Jeremy Henderson, 42, from Okotoks
- Bryan Hillman, 39, from Calgary
- Christopher Hoffner, 34, from Medicine Hat
- James Kydd, 39, from Calgary
- Mica LePage, 44, from Edmonton
- Jordan MacDonald, 30, from Edmonton
- Cris Marshall, 29, from Stettler
- Stedson McDonald, 32, from Grande Prairie
- James Merrison, 21, from Edmonton
- Traline Munn, 44, from Cold Lake
- Krishnamoort Nalla Naidu, 38, from Edmonton
- Van Linh Nguyen, 24, from Edmonton
- Ivan Scott, 47, from Cochrane
- Jerry Lee Thompson, 47, from Fort MacLeod
- Hunter Tonneson, 20, from Blackfalds
- Chase Viau, 23, from Edmonton
- Richard Westland, 45, from Medicine Hat
In total, 60 charges were laid against the 24 people arrested. ALERT did not release details of the investigations that led to the charges.
ALERT CEO Supt. Dwayne Lakusta said ICE saw a 40 per cent increase in the number of case referrals the team received, jumping to 2,100 from 1,555 the year before.
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“This is a concerning consequence of our digital dependency during the pandemic,” Lakusta said. “ALERT has responded by directing more tools and resources to our ICE units and we are prepared to travel to every corner of the province in order to stop child sex predators.”
Spike in online child exploitation reports in Alberta ‘likely’ due to COVID-19 isolation measures: ALERT
ICE Staff Sgt. Dominic Mayhew said that while the pandemic certainly has meant more people are online, the predatorial nature of these crimes is an ongoing issue.
“Likely offenders have a little bit more time online, child victims have a little bit more time online and that created a bit more of a synergy” Mayhew said.
“Certainly our numbers reflect that we’re inundated with requests and with more and more people reporting these types of crimes, it’s going to be a consistent issue.”
Online safety and social media educator Paul Davis said unfortunately, he’s not surprised by the numbers and sympathizes with victims.
Davis suggested parents can take simple steps to try and protect their children from online predators, including not allowing elementary school-aged children to have sophisticated cell phones, ensuring kids under the age of 13 aren’t using certain applications, and never allowing their kids to have their phones in their bedrooms alone.
“We cannot use this phrase, ‘I trust my child,’ when they are just a child,” Davis explained. ” We need to be there regardless of the situation.”
A news release from ALERT said new provincial funding has allowed the organization to double the size of the ICE unit with the addition of investigators, forensic technicians, analysts and disclosure clerks, along with new technologies and software applications.
“With now more than 50 positions, Alberta’s ICE unit is one of the largest of its kind in Canada.”
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