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This article was published 19/7/2016 (1284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A new initiative will make Winnipeg the first city in Canada with a program to protect children and identify child exploitation in its aquatic, recreation and library facilities.
Mayor Brian Bowman, joining with the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection, announced the program on Tuesday at the Pan Am Pool. He described it as "the first of its kind partnership to assist us in enhancing child safety across all civic facilities."
"It's something that I am very proud that we were able to work collaboratively with a national centre that is geographically located right here in Winnipeg. It's a natural fit for us to partner and and I'm hoping that, not only will this be successful, other jurisdictions will consider following suit," Bowman said.
"The manner in which information and images can be captured and disseminated and victimize our children is something that I think we all have a responsibility to do our part to mitigate. Certainly, civic facilities are a location where victimization can occur and we want to do everything we can in our power to help keep our children safer."
Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said the centre's national tip line Cybertip.ca averages 3,500 reports per month of sexual abuse or exploitation of children and has provided the centre with a "unique lens" into the ways technology is being misused to harm children.
"This past year alone, Cybertip saw a 35 per cent increase in reports (that) were (cellular) phones deliberately used to sexually exploit a child," McDonald said.
The city's child safety initiative recognizes children in public facilities such as pools, change rooms, showers and washrooms are particularly vulnerable to child predators. The program will ensure children can be protected by staff who understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and are equipped to follow reporting protocol as well as helping to educate the general public so people notice when something inappropriate involving children is taking place.
"We also receive recordings that were obviously surreptiously taken within public facilities where people want to be around children and take these photographs," said Signy Arnason, the director of Cybertip.ca. "We have to keep in mind that within that (child exploitation) community, children don't have to nude for them to be aroused by these types of shots. We know that these facilities attract individuals who want to have access and be around children."
The program has been launched with over 500 aquatic services staff receiving specialized training. The public awareness program, beginning in all city pool locations, is designed to raise public awareness of the possible misuse of technology in public places to exploit children.
It includes posters, one with a fairly explicit image which Bowman noted is "difficult to look at." The poster's image shows an adult male practicing voyeuristic behaviour directed at a young child in a swimsuit in front of him. The posters include instructions on what members of the public should do if they observe unusual or inappropriate behaviour of any kind. "Notify staff," it reads, regarding "watching, pictures, touching."
"We all have a roll to play and a big part of this is the public education campaign so that all of our citizens have their eyes open and they're aware of some of the information that we want to be in their minds to help prevent victimization," Bowman said. "It (the poster's message) should be something that resonates our citizens and they can be part of keeping children safe as well."
The centre conducted a risk assessment of all city recreation facilities as part of the initiative's development. Its findings also became part of the suggested action plan for members of the public who witness possible child exploitation or sexual abuse at a city facility.
"What you would do immediately is you would tell a staff member at the pool or facility. They've all been trained in accepting those types of reports that are coming. Based on what the report was, they would know how to appropriately manage and handle that and make sure it was dealt with in terms of either going to an appropriate authority or managing it at the facility itself," said Noni Classen, the centre's education director.
Bowman shared a personal story from when he worked as a lifeguard during university, prior to the existence of cellphone cameras, saying pool staff then had incidents involving concerns over patrons and children.
"Technology has changed the manner in which images are disseminated, as I've learned from the Centre for Child Protection, and have been changing, not for the better, in recent years."
The City of Winnipeg Public Service department has been working with the centre since the fall of 2015 after the the Standing Policy Committee of Protection and Community Services, led by councillor Jeff Browaty, recommended implementing such a program.
Phase one of the program addressed city pools. Phases two and three will continue later this this year with recreation and libraries facilities.