A controversial bill that's raised the ire of some Canadians could help Winnipeg police speed up investigations into child pornography.
The fallout over Bill C-30 -- the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act -- has garnered plenty of criticism from those against online surveillance, including 113,000 people who signed an online petition.
But among its supporters is the Winnipeg Police Service, which took the unusual position recently of offering their support for the bill by stating it will "provide police with the necessary tools to more effectively investigate serious crime" and "modernize tools used by law enforcement and provide for the preservation of data and information."
WPS Insp. Gord Perrier said investigators with the Internet child exploitation (ICE) unit handle about 50 to 60 investigations per year that lead to charges and about 380 investigations that don't.
He said investigators must sometimes deal with delays of 15 to 115 days to get information such as a customer's street address or a person's name from an Internet service provider (ISP).
"By the time that's determined... some things have moved, some things have changed," said Perrier, which means that investigation "can't progress because too much time has elapsed."
The bill has been formally endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) and led police in cities such as Vancouver and Calgary support it.
It proposes companies who provide Internet service would have to give police basic information about their clients, such as names, addresses, IP addresses and email addresses.
Critics have bashed the bill because they say it invades privacy.
The website Openmedia.ca, which posted the petition, said if the bill passes unchanged, it "will create a giant, unsecure, expensive data registry that collects the personal information of any Canadian at any time without a warrant."
However, groups such as the CACP dispute that, saying a warrant is needed to "gain content of electronic communications."
The CACP also says there would be "strict limits" on the number of officers allowed to ask for the information and "strict procedures" around recording and auditing requests.
"Data or content of transmissions can only be released to law enforcement through a court-ordered warrant process," said a CACP release called Simplifying Access -- Bill C-30 -- Through the Lens of Law Enforcement.
"The legislation does not change this."
Perrier said changes in the bill "will enable us to keep pace with some of the investigations as they unfold." Lag times getting information such as a customer's name can seriously hinder police in matters such as assessing if a person poses a risk to children.
"There (are) still children at risk during that lag time. That's been demonstrated in our investigations a number of times," he said. "What I want the public to know is the next steps about privacy, the actual information we're talking about, those images, emails, communications.
"All of that, police still must get search warrants. It's not 'open the doors, and we get everything.' It's simply saying, 'Who are we talking about? What address are we talking about?' "
An RCMP spokeswoman in Winnipeg, Sgt. Line Karpish, said in an email it would be "inappropriate" to comment because "the RCMP doesn't opine on proposed legislation or amendments. We enforce the laws that are in effect."
Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said he supports the bill.
"I think very few people fail to accept the reality that serious crimes can be perpetrated through electronic media... " he said.
"If police are unable to link evidence of those crimes to a specific person or location in a timely fashion, it renders the evidence vulnerable to loss, outright destruction or utter uselessness in terms of (admissibility)."