While studies have shown that the reported prevalence of child sexual abuse (CSA) in Canada has fallen since the 1990s, at least 7.8 percent of the population under the age of 15 was still thought to experience CSA in 2018. As in other countries, girls are far more likely to experience CSA, with 12.0 percent of girls reporting being sexually abused by an adult, compared to 3.7 percent of boys. Data provided to FP Analytics by Public Safety Canada also shows that police-reported incidents of online child sexual exploitation nearly tripled between 2014 and 2020, with a more than 25 percent increase in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the 2022 Out of the Shadows Index ranked Canada the fourth highest out of the 60 countries it monitors, including the highest country score in terms of prevention. The government has clear legal protections to combat CSA, including the Criminal Code, which contains measures to protect children against sexual exploitation and problematic online behaviors, and the Divorce Act, which helps protect children in instances of family violence.
While Canada’s provinces and territories carry the main responsibility for protecting children and enforcing criminal law, the federal government responds to aspects of CSA at the national level, particularly online child sexual exploitation. Canada’s efforts to combat and prevent CSA are specified under Canada’s Road Map to End Violence against Children and include the 2004 National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet and the 2017 It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. The primary national entities with responsibility for CSA are Public Safety Canada (which includes the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), the Department of Justice Canada, and the Department of Women and Gender Equality.
Public Safety Canada plays a central role in responding to CSA as the government entity responsible for keeping Canadians safe from crime. In email correspondence with FP Analytics, Public Safety Canada indicated that “Budget 2022 approved CAD 41.6 million over five years, starting in 2022–23 and CAD 8.9 million ongoing to Public Safety Canada to better protect children” as part of its national strategy on online sexual exploitation, although this information was not published in the public-facing version of the budget. These resources should “support efforts to prevent [online child sexual exploitation], raise awareness of this crime and reduce the stigma with disclosure, support victims and survivors, increase law enforcement’s ability to pursue and prosecute offenders, expand and share knowledge on the issue, and enhance collaboration among partners and stakeholders combating this crime.” This work builds on the 2019 budget, which specifically pledged CAD 22.2 million for “Protecting children from online sexual exploitation” through Public Safety Canada over a period of three years starting in FY 2019–20. (See Figure 1.) These resources were set to be distributed across prevention and awareness activities and used to reduce the stigma of reporting (CAD 4.9 million), strengthen Canada’s ability to pursue and prosecute offenders (CAD 15.3 million), and combat online child sexual exploitation (CAD 2.1 million). However, a similar breakdown of funding was not apparent in later budget years.
Budget 2019 Funding Projections for Child Sexual Exploitation Programming through Public Safety Canada
Data source: 2019 Budget.
Although Canada publishes more detailed expenditure estimates, these offer little additional detail on CSA expenditure. For example, they do not specify how Public Safety Canada’s operational funding is allocated beyond four general areas—(1) “Community safety,” (2) “Emergency management,” (3) “National security,” and (4) “Internal services”—although they do provide further detail on transfer payments going through the department to some specific programs. Only one of these line items includes CSA, specifically under the heading “Contribution program to combat child sexual abuse and human trafficking,” which averages between CAD 2.0 million and CAD 3.4 million per year from FY 2018–19 through to projections for FY 2023–24. (See Figure 2.) This value is relatively small—for example, CAD 2.0 million out of a total CAD 880.8 million for Public Safety Canada in FY 2022–23—although other funding lines in the department’s budget are likely relevant to responding to CSA, such as some of the CAD 605.4 million devoted to “Community safety.”
Funding for Child Sexual Exploitation Programming through Public Safety Canada Transfer Payments
Other funding through Public Safety Canada specifically supports the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to investigate instances of online child sexual exploitation, identify victims and remove them from harmful situations, and administer justice to offenders. The FY 2021 budget proposes CAD 20.7 million over a period of five years beginning in FY 2021–22. This follows a similar investment laid out in the FY 2018 budget that pledged CAD 19.0 million over five years, as well as CAD 5.8 million ongoing, specifically for the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC), which works as the “point of contact” for investigations into the sexual exploitation of children online in Canada. However, once again, the lack of detail in the budget—in this case, related to spending priorities within the RCMP—makes it challenging to confirm whether promised allocations translate into actual spending.
Public Safety Canada also indicated to FP Analytics via email that it provides CAD 2.8 million per year to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), a charitable organization that runs several programs aimed at preventing child sexual exploitation online. This money helps support projects like Project Arachnid, an automated system to monitor and administer take-down notices for online CSA material globally, as well as cybertip.ca, a website for Canadians to report online sexual exploitation.
Some of Canada’s CSA-relevant allocations, including investment in the RCMP and C3P from Public Safety Canada, fall under Canada’s 2017 Gender-based Violence Strategy. In total, the FY 2017 and FY 2018 budgets laid out over CAD 200 million to be provided from FY 2017 through FY 2022, as well as CAD 40 million per year ongoing to implement this strategy. Although the strategy has an overall focus on GBV, it features priority areas with overlap for responding to and preventing CSA. For example, the 2017 budget committed CAD 1.0 million for five years, as well as CAD 0.3 million per year ongoing, for funding to Public Safety Canada to increase awareness of online child sexual exploitation. Likewise, the 2018 budget included CAD 19.3 million over five years, with CAD 5.8 million per year ongoing, to the RCMP for combating online child sexual exploitation and transnational child sex offenders. Another CAD 10.0 million over five years was included in the same budget for support to the RCMP’s Sexual Assault Review Team and Victim Support Action Plan. Although such allocations are not always exclusive to addressing CSA, they may contribute to programs and organizations that seek to combat CSA, such as through grants and contributions from the Department of Women and Gender Equality. (See Figure 3.) Contributions and grants from the department are estimated to total CAD 177.7 million from FY 2018 through FY 2023, going to “Canadian organizations, institutions and other levels of government to improve supports [sic] and help create long-term, comprehensive solutions for survivors at the national, regional, and local levels.”
GBV Contributions and Grants through the Department of Women and Gender Equality
Finally, the Department of Justice Canada plays a variety of roles in the fight against CSA, including through the Federal Victims Strategy and the accompanying Victims Fund, through the Youth Justice Fund, and through its support for Child Advocacy Centres. Budget estimates illustrate this role most clearly through transfer payments via the department, which totaled CAD 562.2 million in FY 2022, with the largest portions going to “Contributions under the youth justice services funding program” (CAD 185.0 million) and “Contributions for criminal legal aid” (CAD 165.3 million). The operating budgets within the department offer no further distinction beyond the broad categories of “Justice system support,” “Legal services,” and “Internal services.”
Selected Department of Justice Canada Transfer Payments
Under Canada’s Road Map to End Violence against Children, Canada’s federal government has documented clear institutional efforts to combat violence against children, which includes CSA. However, the country’s federal structure greatly complicates understanding of the scope of its response through a national lens, as many efforts occur at the provincial and territory level. Public Safety Canada stands out as the primary national entity involved in ensuring children’s safety, but its work focuses overwhelmingly on online child sexual exploitation, not CSA generally. However, Canada’s commitment to fighting online sexual exploitation is underscored by the 2004 National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet, which has benefited from continued institutional investment, signaling commitment over the long term. In email correspondence with FP Analytics, Public Safety Canada noted that since funding increased in 2019, the number of reported cases, cases referred to the police, and charges laid have all increased, an indication that progress is “ongoing.”
Canada’s federal structure greatly complicates understanding of the scope of its response through a national lens, as many efforts occur at the provincial and territory level.
While annual budgets often clearly state proposed allocations for these purposes, there is a dearth of specific detail about how money is divided among specific end goals, including in Canada’s more detailed budget estimates. For example, Public Safety Canada’s operating expenses are split into four broad categories, offering no further detail about how money is divided up at the programmatic level. While more detail is available for transfer payments within Public Safety Canada and the Department of Justice, for example, there are very few budget lines specific to CSA. Given Canada’s high ranking in the Out of the Shadows Index and its own estimates, greater detail regarding budgetary flows, including allocations to specific, issue-focused programmatic efforts, would be beneficial going forward, both to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of Canada’s approach and to enable other countries to learn from and adapt Canada’s approach to ending CSA. Similarly, efforts to combat CSA could benefit from centralized, comprehensive documentation of spending related to CSA from both subnational- and national-level entities.