An elderly Toronto man became the first Canadian convicted of sex crimes committed against children in Cuba after he pleaded guilty Friday to six counts, including little-used child sex tourism charges.
James McTurk admitted offenses against girls as young as 3 during a brief appearance.
Prosecutors are now considering seeking a dangerous offender order against the 78-year-old — a move which could see various measures taken against McTurk, including keeping him behind bars for the rest of his life.
When asked by Justice Charles Vaillancourt how he pleaded to the charges — one count of making child pornography, another of importing child pornography, three counts of sexual interference and a final count of invitation to sexual touching — McTurk replied “guilty,” in a soft voice.
McTurk was the first person to be charged by Toronto police with the little-used child sex tourism offenses.
His case was the subject of a Toronto Star investigation which examined how sex offenders are largely free to travel abroad to commit crimes, despite the amendment of the Criminal Code by the Canadian government to allow the prosecution of people who travel abroad to seek sex with children.
On Friday, the retired postal worked becomes just the sixth known conviction under the law — and the first whose offenses were committed in Cuba.
Despite two previous convictions for child pornography — in 1995 and 1998 — and being placed on the sex offender’s registry, McTurk was free to travel. The court was told that he made 31 trips to the island, between 2009 and his arrest in July 2012.
Toronto police began investigating McTurk when he went to a North York store to have pictures from a trip to Cuba printed, and what the photo clerk saw — images of unsmiling, topless little girls — alarmed her.
“The employee at the photo lab became concerned about these photos because the girls appeared to be frightened,” prosecutor Anna Stanford said.
Police were called, and detectives executed a search warrant at McTurk’s address.
Officers arrested McTurk on July 24, 2012, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, as he returned home from yet another trip to Cuba
Graphic evidence of the images and videos discovered in his North York apartment and on digital cards carried by McTurk when he was arrested were entered into evidence in court. Stanford quietly read detailed descriptions of what detectives found.
They included close-up images of the body parts of young girls, and McTurk in sexual situations with the same children. In one video, Stanford said, McTurk is seen forcing his tongue into a 3-year-old girl’s mouth.
“He continuously pulls her to him as she appears to resist, and repeatedly inserts his tongue into the child’s mouth,” she said, reading from an agreed statement of facts. “He then gives the child a candy and lets her go.”
In an interview with detectives, McTurk said he knew one of the girl’s grandmothers, who he met two decades ago in Cuba.
“She was on the beach and was hungry, so he fed her,” Stanford said. “He maintained contact with her and stayed with her and her family regularly when he visited Cuba. He gave her a couple hundred pesos — approximately $240 — each time he visited.”
McTurk’s case is to return to court in August, when the Crown will ask for the dangerous offender order. Six other charges against McTurk are to be withdrawn.