TORONTO - Canada is joining a group fighting online child sexual abuse around the world, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Monday, calling it the next step in the government's crackdown on child sex predators.
The Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online, which includes the United States, the European Union and other countries, was started last December to help authorities better identify and assist victims of abuse and prosecute culprits.
The international nature of online abuse requires co-operation between countries to bring criminals to justice and rescue victims, Nicholson said.
While much is already being done to combat child sex abuse on Canadian soil, working closely with investigators abroad is a necessity given that child pornography rings often span several countries, he added.
"This is just a recognition of what is taking place on the Internet," the minister said at a news conference in Toronto.
"What this will do is formalize with a whole new range of countries with the intention to share information and to co-operate with each other in these investigations."
The alliance also wants to raise global awareness of the scope of the problem.
In Canada, sexual violations against children — including instances of online luring — were among the few types of violent crime to rise between 2010 and 2011, according to the latest data provided by Statistics Canada.
Increasingly sophisticated technology makes it easier for predators to obtain pornographic material — and to keep their activities underground, said Det.-Sgt. Kim Gross, who heads Toronto police's child exploitation investigations unit.
Those who work in that field already trade tips, techniques and other information to keep up with the evolving methods abusers use to hide their tracks, she said.
But cementing those networks will help investigators take action more quickly in cases where a child may be in danger of being harmed, she added.
"Often when we're talking about children who are young and vulnerable, you may want to act faster than normal because you certainly want to protect that child," she said.
Monday's announcement comes months after the Conservative government vowed to stiffen penalties for sex predators who prey on children and give victims a formal role in the country's criminal justice system.
Nicholson also made a series of funding announcements in the last week of January geared toward child-assault victims.
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