Sexual exploitation of children on the internet is a problem without borders, and is prevalent in Saskatchewan.

Sergeant Josh MacNaughton of the Moose Jaw Police Service’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit addressed this issue at yesterday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting, sharing the staggering statistic that there is an average of 120,000 internet searches made for child pornography every day in our province.  

ICE units investigate instances of internet child pornography and luring cases, looking to prosecute sexual offenders and identify victims. They also seek to create awareness surrounding internet child exploitation issues, including presentations to parents. 

Saskatchewan has had an ICE unit since 2009, and Moose Jaw has had ICE investigators since 2019. MacNaughton is the second ICE investigator for Moose Jaw.  

The provincial ICE unit includes 9 investigators, including 4 based in Regina, 3 in Saskatoon, and 2 in Prince Albert. In addition, there are 2 forensic technicians in Saskatoon, who deal with the technical side of investigations. 

While he’s not part of the provincial unit, MacNaughton said he works closely with them, texting or calling them often. 

Police Chief Rick Bourassa said that funding for the ICE positions in Moose Jaw comes from the Board, though they have now approached the province to fund the positions for four years.  

“We’ve continued to ask the province to fund ICE positions, because there is a provincial ICE body, and we are doing all of the work that that ICE body is doing, but isn’t doing here, so we’re picking that up,” said Bourassa. 

“We see absolutely no reason why we have not been included in those funding models, so we will continue to work to advance that and to have us as part of those units,” he added. 

Bourassa said that funding the positions is expensive, including two full time police officers, equipment and licensing agreements, training, and psychological supports for officers.  

“It’s a costly undertaking. Incredibly important, incredibly valuable, and we continue to ask the Ministry to provide some funding for this, because we work so closely with the provincial ICE unit.” 

MacNaughton said that ICE files are big, and investigations are lengthy, taking several months from an initial incident to the conclusion of an investigation. “We have specific Crown Prosecutors that are assigned – one in the north, and one in the south – to do just these files.” 

In total, there were 1029 ICE files in Saskatchewan in 2023. This is a significant increase from 2017, when this number was 307. 

Moose Jaw averages approximately 16 ICE files per year. So far in 2024, MacNaughton has 9 files. 

“The workload’s overwhelming, and we don’t have enough investigators. What ends up happening is, if it looks like it’s just a single upload file - so one account just uploaded one bad photo to the internet – oftentimes those get pushed to the side, because there’s way bigger fish to catch,” said MacNaughton. 

ICE has a 98 per cent conviction rate – something that they’re proud of according to MacNaughton. “Usually by the time our files go through, we try to just have an overwhelming amount of evidence.” 

Last year, the province saw 58 people charged with offences related to internet child exploitation.

He added that they collaborate with several partners inside and outside of Canada. “In the ICE world, they’ve created different pathways that we can get information directly and right away. I frequently talk to people in different departments around the world.” 

“Just yesterday I was emailing the Department of Homeland Security. They can send subpoenas on our behalf to the social media platforms, which are usually based out of California - so Snapchat, Instagram.” 

Commissioner Clive Tolley asked if files receive higher priority when people are suspected of creating content versus viewing content. 

“Anybody that we believe is actively offending is number one priority, and we get going right away,” answered MacNaughton.

MacNaughton will soon be timing out of the position and will be replaced by Constable Kalie Seidlitz and Constable Alanna Coghill, who will start their training this April in Ottawa.