Justice Minister Listens To Child Exploit Officers

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:41 a.m. November 17, 2014
Updated: 11:43 a.m. November 17, 2014

Justice Minister Peter MacKay visited with Sex Crimes investigators recently to discuss issues law enforcement may have with newly amended internet privacy legislation.

A man and woman seated at a table and speaking
Detective Sergeant Kim Gross speaks to Justice Minister Peter MacKay about challenges facing officers

In a discussion with  Sex Crimes officers, including Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins and Detective Sergeant Kim Gross, Justice Minister MacKay heard about the slowing down of response time in tracking online sexual predators because of the Supreme Court ruling in R. v Spencer. 

The Spencer decision made it unconstitutional for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to voluntarily disclose names, addresses and phone numbers of their customers to law enforcement agencies. 

Before Spencer, Toronto Police Sex Crimes was using simple Law Enforcement Requests (LERs) to track down those who accessed, distributed or created sexually exploitive images of children as well as those involved in offending against children, explained Gross.

“The liabilities are high,” said Gross to the Minister, “Children are put at risk while investigators try to find a Justice of Peace who will honour a warrant or production order for information that would have previously been available through an LER.”

Gross explained that the new requirement of seeking a production order for requesting IP or cellphone information was not only slowing down their police work but, in many cases, halting it. She said this was because of production order requests being struck down on insufficient reasonable grounds or, in some cases, there was no data left to produce once the production order had been approved.

Illustrating the hindrance the Spencer decision had on Sex Crimes, Gross said previously, on average, they submitted 50 LERs a month. Now they were down to seven production orders. The reason the number had gone down was due to detectives not having enough reasonable grounds to ask for data.

Children are put at risk while investigators try to find a Justice of Peace who will honour a warrant or production order for information that would have previously been available through an LER

Pre-Spencer, investigators were also using simple door-knocks, an average of seven a month. In such instances, where officers would go to a home and ask about a user, often people admitted it was them and allowed an officer to take their computer – after which officers sought a warrant to search the computer. In 2014, the unit had four arrests because of door-knocks.

Minister MacKay was sympathetic to the frustrations discussed with him and said he would take into account what he heard at the meeting to further the amendments to the Criminal Code. The Minister of Justice has recently introduced legislation to amend the Criminal Code under Bill C-13. Under Bill C-13 the Minister would like to see a new offence created to prohibit the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, whether they be of consenting adults or produced by exploiting children or teens. 

Mackay said C-13 also includes amendments that would provide for preservation of volatile computer data as well as update production orders and warrants to make them more responsive and appropriate for today’s advanced telecommunication environment.

He said that, while the average user is afraid their privacy will be compromised, perhaps the public would understand the police don’t go looking for people who are not committing crimes, rather they look for those who are. The Minister was sympathetic to the frustrations and assured them he would use what he had learned at the meeting to help make their job easier. 

He added that he was grateful for the work the unit was doing and understood the timeliness of the work. 

The meeting with the Justice Minister came after a roundtable discussion with law enforcement and child advocates across the country and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in October.

Harper moderated the session, discussing the scope of these problems, the barriers to solving them, global responses and effective practices in other countries and the effectiveness of measures taken to date in Canada in cooperation with provincial, territorial and civil society partners.

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