So often when Canadians think of Cuba, they think of cheap holidays: sand, sun and lying on the beach. But over the past decade, this island winter getaway has gained a more sinister reputation.
Today, a growing number of tourists, almost always older men, are winging to Cuba for one thing – sex. But far more disturbing is that some of them are looking for sex with children.
W5 joined with the Toronto Star and the Miami Herald and discovered that, although Canada has a national sex offender registry, it is doing next to nothing to stop pedophiles from travelling to poor countries where they commit horrendous sexual acts with children as young as five, six and seven.
While Canada has a law that was passed in 1997 that treats a sex crime committed abroad as if it happened here, our investigation found that the arrests and convictions for sex tourists targeting children are rare and that these twisted travellers almost always get away with it.
Mark Hecht, a lawyer with the child advocacy organization, Beyond Borders, told W5 that the authorities in many of the countries where Canadian pedophiles travel are “either uninterested, are under resourced or in some cases they’re simply corrupt.”
“So, it relies on us to be able to catch the Canadian doing this abroad and that has proven very difficult to do,” he pointed out.
Difficult, but not impossible.
Recently the Toronto police arrested a 78-year-old man after he returned from Cuba with disturbing photographs of him allegedly engaging in sex acts with children.
James McTurk has been charged with nine sex tourism offences, including making child pornography and sexual interference.
But what is particularly disturbing in this case is that McTurk had pleaded guilty in 1995 to possession of child pornography, and again in 1998 after police found videotapes of him allegedly engaging in sex acts with young girls. According to police, all images were shot in Cuba.
In the first case, he was given a conditional discharge and put on probation for 18 months. The second time, McTurk was sentenced to an 18-month conditional sentence and 18 months on probation.
In this latest arrest, Toronto police learned that McTurk, who is on the National Sex Offender Registry, has traveled to Cuba 31 times between 2008 and 2012. An employee at a supermarket photo lab called police when he saw photos that had been brought in to be processed.
“The allegation is that there’s photographs of young children and in those photographs were included the accused as well,” said Det. Sgt. Kim Gross, who heads the Toronto Police Child Exploitation Section. “There’s a helplessness of the faces of these children that is very striking.”
However, McTurk could have come to the attention of police in Canada much earlier if the Canada Border Service Agency had had access to the Sex Offender Registry.
It doesn’t, because the RCMP, which administers the registry, does not consider the CBSA to be a police force. Yet the CBSA is responsible for controlling who comes in and out of Canada.
“We just have to link our systems. So, for example, what’s going on with the passport office should be linked with what’s going with the sex offender registry, which should also be linked to other legislation,” argued Hecht.
A confidential RCMP document, obtained by the Toronto Star under an access-to-information request reveals the scope of the problem.
Cuba is in the top four child sex destinations for Canadians in the Americas. The others are Mexico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
The report estimates that there are two million children worldwide who are involved in the illicit sex industry. According to the RCMP, the most common occupations for offenders include teachers, clergy and those in IT-related jobs.
Meanwhile, the Harper Government, which boasts that it is cracking down on crime, insists that big changes are coming that will close the gaping loopholes in the system that allows pedophiles to slip through.
W5’s repeated requests for an on-camera interview with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews were refused. However, in a telephone interview with the Toronto Star he said: “Given … the close communication individuals involved with this activity have around the globe, Canada has a greater responsibility to engage in stemming the problem.”
Conservative backbench MP Joy Smith, who has been fighting for tougher laws against sex offenders since she was first elected to Parliament in 2004, told W5’s Victor Malarek that “as we speak, our government is putting in the cross border, the entry and the exit border with all the checks and balances. You’ll hear about it very, very soon.”
W5 joined the Toronto Star and the Miami Herald / El Nuevo Herald to report Twisted Travellers.