The Canadian government has vowed to stop sex offenders from travelling abroad to abuse children in the wake of a series by the Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald that exposed how easily Canadian sex tourists can slip through the cracks — and across borders.
Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews on Monday said the government was concerned about Canadians who leave the country to prey on vulnerable children and noted some steps had already been taken to combat the offence.
“It is clear that more needs to be done to protect children from the heinous crime of sexual abuse,” Toews told the House of Commons. “Our government is committed to protecting children in Canada and abroad from sex offenders. We intend to take further action against international sex tourism and, indeed, we welcome the support of the Toronto Star.”
Toews did not elaborate on what steps the government could take. But the Star series revealed a number of loopholes in the system designed to monitor sex offenders, making it relatively easy for them to travel abroad to exploit children.
Supervision of their travel is lax. Front-line border officials do not have easy access to police databases or the sex offenders registry. There is no integrated system for tracking and monitoring sex offenders. And the process of laying sex tourism charges is an arduous one for police.
And in Canada, convictions for sex tourism are rare. More than 200 Canadians have been convicted abroad of sexual crimes against children. But at home — under a 1997 law that makes it possible to prosecute Canadians for crimes committed outside the country’s borders — there have been only five known convictions for child sex tourism.
Last week, Toronto police announced they had filed child sex tourism charges for the first time. The accused, 78-year-old James McTurk, is to appear in court Thursday on a dozen counts.
It is alleged McTurk, already twice-convicted on child pornography charges related to Cuban girls, travelled to the island dozens of times to abuse children — some of whom, police alleged, may have been as young as four.
UNICEF has estimated there are as many as 2 million children involved in the sex trade globally, and Cuba is emerging as a destination of choice for Canadian men who are seeking sex with young people.
A confidential RCMP document cites Cuba as a top destination in the Americas for Canadian sex tourists, and says the issue of “travelling child sex offenders is likely greater than previously thought.” The 2011 report obtained by the Star acknowledges “a more determined, yet strategic, response by Canadian police could uncover many more Canadian offenders committing sexual offences abroad.”
Beefing up the country’s police response to travelling sex offenders, the report concludes, will take “additional resources, more effective coordination and collaboration between Canadian law enforcement and foreign police, and better reporting mechanisms for Canadians who witness suspicious behaviour abroad.”