TORONTO (CP) -- While the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles to exchange photos and lure children, police say it's also made them easier to catch.
"I could go on the Internet and within five minutes probably identify someone who was involved in child pornography", said Det. Const. Frank Goldschmidt, an Ontario provincial police officer specializing in the crime.
"It's that easy."
Child pornography rages on the electronic highway, flowing without control between countries and into private homes.
And while police aren't encouraging the proliferation of porn newsgroups and chat rooms, they do admit that keeping them running makes it much easier to catch offenders.
A slew of cases made headlines recently:
Federal law defines child pornography as any depiction of explicit sexual activity involving someone under 18 or someone portrayed as being under that age.
Goldschmidt is part of a six-officer team of Project P, an anti-porn unit overwhelmed by the volume of net-related cases.
"We could probably triple the size (of our squad) and still be busy", said Goldschmidt, adding that 75 to 80% of cases the squad handles are Internet-related.
Goldschmidt said many investigations begin as tips, from across the country and the United States, and often involve a sort of "cyber stakeout" -- where officers surf areas of the net that pedophiles are likely to frequent, such as pornography newsgroups and chat rooms.
A similar technique led to an arrest and seizure for Sgt. Keith Daniels, a founding member of the Ottawa-Carleton region porn unit who developed a familiar relationship with a suspect he met in chat rooms over three months.
Fifteen years ago, porn was mostly distributed by hand or mail, said Daniels, but the Internet is now the tool of choice for distributors and consumers.
"If I put an image up now, by tomorrow there would be 100,000 people with the image. There's millions of (pedophiles) now. They're coming out of the woodwork."
In order to catch high-tech crooks, investigators have to be just as computer savvy. The increase in computer crime has led to a corresponding demand for advanced computer training, said France Thibodeau, manager of the special training unit at Canadian Police College.
A pilot project is in the works for a two-week course dedicated to Internet-related crime, she said.
"The direction we are hoping to take is to expand it to a full-blown course to deal specifically with cyber crime."
The college already offers courses on telecommunications fraud, electronic search and seizure, and investigative computer techniques.
Even drug investigators are finding they need computer skills in case they come across a computer during a raid, said Thibodeau.
"The mentality has changed drastically with technology", she said. "(Officers) cannot ignore that computer, whereas five years ago they might look at it and say: 'So what?'"
Child pornography rages on the electronic highway, flowing without control between countries and into private homes. A list of recent cases:
Dec. 8, 1997: Robert Horvat, 20, of Cambridge, Ont., is sentenced to 100 hours community service and 17 months probation for possession. He was caught with 3,000 computer images of child porn.
Oct. 29, 1997: Police seize computer files and hard copies of child porn following nine-month investigation of Lloyd Rock, 25, of Listowel, charged with possession.
Oct. 23, 1997: Kirk Lowes, 27, is fined $5,000 and placed on two years probation for distributing child porn on the Internet. In the summer of 1996, Lowes was the first Manitoban to be charged with the offence.
October 1996: Trevor Davis, 22, is charged in Kirkland Lake, Ont., with six counts relating to child pornography on the Internet after police seized about 30,000 computer files.
October 1996: Daniel Hancock, 30, of Oshawa, Ont., and Trevor Partridge, 30, of Bowmanville, Ont., are each charged with several counts of possession of distributing child pornography. Hancock is also charged with making child pornography.
A police task force seized their largest haul of computer child pornography in Ontario, netting more than 32,000 files depicting young children engaged in sex acts, as well as 10,000 computer files and 500 videotapes.