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An inside look into how Sask ICE investigators catch child predators

Child predators lurk in cities, towns, and even in remote areas: Former Detective-Sergeant Chris Bryshun.
Former Detective-Sergeant Chris Bryshun was one of the officers on Saskatchewan's first ICE unit.

PRINCE ALBERT – Investigators from the Saskatchewan Internet Child Exploitation Unit, or Sask ICE, use a variety of investigative methods to catch child predators.

Child predators lurk in cities, towns, and even in remote areas, said former Detective-Sergeant Chris Bryshun from the Prince Albert Police Service who was one of the first members of Saskatchewan’s ICE unit when it started.

“If you talk to an ICE Unit investigator and ask him to show you a map of the activity in the last 30 minutes, he'll show you a map and then it'll come up with a bunch of asterisks on different regions where they've had a record of a file being transferred and it almost covers the entire map. So, it's everywhere.”

Sask ICE uses a software program that monitors peer-to-peer file transfers worldwide. They then narrow it down to a province or a region within the province.

“You can watch all these file transfers going through,” said Bryshun. “When you transfer files from one computer to another it leaves a trail and it leaves a fingerprint of what that file is.

“So, if a known file is moving from one person to another, the fingerprint is left behind.”

The software program identifies the file as being illegal and the IP address that it was sent from. Authorities then obtain information on who owns that IP at that specific time and start doing background information on the address, such as who lives there. From there, police get a search warrant for the location.

Investigators ensure they are targeting the correct perpetrator through a number of methods. If it’s an apartment building and only one person lives there it’s pretty simple said Bryshun.

Not so if it’s a commercial building.

“If the trafficking occurs during off business hours, we do a stakeout and we surveil the building.

“If we see that there’s only one person that’s going in there at night and then we get a file transfer during a period when that one person was in the building, then it’s pretty obvious it’s that person.”

If the IP address leads to a family home, investigators start questioning people who live there and narrow it down.

“If you’re a good interrogator, or interviewer, you should be able to boil it down to the main suspect.”

Police also look at tying timelines together.

“If this person has always worked until five but the offense occurs at two o’clock in the afternoon, then that’s probably not them.

"It’s just a process of elimination.”

You can’t hide

Using a virtual private network, or VPN, to attempt to hide your IP isn’t foolproof.

“There will always be one mirrored IP address,” said Bryshun. “If the final IP address is identified as being in Turkey or the Philippines, you can find out that it came from a certain server.”

Once police identify the location of the server, they contact authorities in that country.

“If you say that it is involving the safety of children, which child pornography does, they will immediately act on it.”

This means that technically, child predators can’t hide.

“If you can get cooperation from a VPN server then you can trace it back. And if it goes to another VPN server, you can trace that back.

ICE investigators also rely on information from independent citizens providing tips if they witness something or have a suspicion about someone.

The information goes to the National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC) in Ottawa where they investigate what they can. If NCECC discovers the IP address is originating in Saskatchewan, they will put together a file and send it to the Sask ICE Unit, who then takes over the investigation, said Bryshun.

The Sask ICE Unit works under Ottawa and gets its funding from the province. All of the specialized police units are connected.

“You’ve probably heard of redundancy investigations where something like a provincial unit is investigating a certain person and at the same time the RCMP is investigating them. And then one of them gets surprised by the fact that somebody else just did a search warrant on a house that they’ve been watching for two years. So, with all of those units being connected, everybody knows what everyone else is doing. It’s really well connected.”

Repeat offenders

There are a lot of repeat offenders and Canada has a sex offender registry that is accessible to law enforcement but not the general public.

Bryshun doesn’t believe the public should have access to the registry.

“I don't think that's a great idea. I think that when somebody serves their time, they should be free to go. But at the same time, if they're determined to be a danger to the public, then the police should be able to monitor them after that. And there's actually a section in the Criminal Code, Section 810, that allows for extended monitoring. So, if somebody was sentenced to 15 years, and completed their time, but refused to take programming, refused to take responsibility for what they had done, the government can pursue an 810 order, which gives protection against that person for the public. It's like a peace bond for the public. And so, you can request that we go through a hearing, and if the judge approves it, then that person will be approved for extended monitoring. But I don't think that should be public information.”

Demands of law enforcement

Bryshun said he joined the police force for the same reason as everybody else.

“I wanted to help people and I had done a lot of work in private security and I thought that was kind of like the next step.”

In the line of duty, police officers are regularly exposed to a darker side of society that most citizens will never encounter. This constant exposure to violence and the grim reality can have a profound impact on officers.

Some become jaded.

Bryshun said the first three years on the job did make him jaded.

“It toughens you up. But after that, I reached a maturity level where I saw that this isn’t ‘us against them,’ and it’s not like we’re policing an occupied territory or something. We’re part of the community. It’s a community that you have to police but it’s also a community that you want to live in too. So, no, I really relaxed on that and I treated people the way that I hoped that they would treat me if I was a citizen.”

Bryshun started out as a patrol officer with Prince Albert Police Service in the foot patrol unit, which was called the neighbourhood task force at the time.

“Not only did we do foot patrol work, but we also did a lot of community stuff, community-based policing, and I really enjoyed that.”

Eventually, he became a patrol supervisor, a shift sergeant. An investigator in charge of investigations asked him if he was interested in computer forensics. He was so he was trained as a computer forensics expert. This was before the Sask ICE Unit was formed.

He worked as a plain clothes officer in the Criminal Investigation Division [CID]. In the CID unit, he worked in major investigations including homicides, fraud cases, organized crime, and high-risk offender work.

Saskatoon Police Det. Sgt. Darren Parisien pushed the province to create the Sask ICE Unit and when the funding was approved, Bryshun was one of a handful of people that Parisien thought would be helpful in the unit.

“I was one of them because I was already working on forensics,” said Bryshun. “So they brought me in. I think the original unit was nine people. I was responsible for the northern section of the province and I was working with an RCMP Corporal based out of Warman.”

Bryshun retired from the force but sometimes misses the job. In Prince Albert, officers were limited to the number of years they could be in the CID Unit to give others an opportunity.

“I really enjoyed working in the unit and that was a lot of fun. It was a really good education experience. It showed me a lot about digital investigation. And if I could have kept doing it for a few more years I probably would have, but I had reached my expiry and I moved on. There's only so many years you can be a part of it.”

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