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03/27/2013

Pearson child porn arrests highlight need for better child sex tourism investigations

Two travellers returning from Asia have been arrested by Canadian border agents at Toronto's Pearson airport for alleged possesion of child pornography material -- the latest in a continuing series of seizures that highlight the need for better investigations in child sex tourism and the current flaws in Canada’s border controls.

The Canada Border Services Agency said in statement  on Monday that on Feb. 25, a traveller arriving on a flight from Taiwan was found to be "in possession of several USB keys, memory cards and an external hard drive containing hundreds of gigabytes of suspected child exploitation.”

In another incident on March 1, the CBSA says inspectors looking at the laptop and other electronic devices belonging to a traveller arriving from China “discovered encrypted files of explicit sexual material involving children.”

Both men were arrested for smuggling and charged by Peel Regional Police for possession of child pornography, according to the CBSA.

 What is interesting is that in both cases, the discovery of the alleged illegal material happened during what is called “secondary inspection” – when either as a result of a random check or suspicions by a border agent, a traveller is pulled from the usual passport check for further inquiries.

As the Star pointed out in a recent series on child sex tourism, the so-called “primary” border agents on the front-line who scan the passports of all people who enter the country do not have direct access to the police databases or the National Sex Offender registry that might alert to them to people with previous convictions for crimes against children.

What that means is that when Canadians are charged with child sex tourism  -- and that has happened only a handful of times since the law came into force in 1997 -- the alleged crimes are discovered almost by accident.

That’s what happened in the case revealed by the Star of James McTurk, the 78-year-old North York man who had twice been convicted of child pornography cases and had made more than 30 trips to Cuba since 2009 before being arrested by police when he dropped off some pictures to be developed at a local Loblaws.

He now faces nine charges for child sex tourism that include sexual touching of minors with his hands, mouth and penis. No evidence against McTurk has been heard in court, and the charges against him are unproven.

Paul Robb, the detective from the Toronto Police Child Exploitation Unit who carried out the investigation against McTurk, told us that he wondered how many travelling sex offenders are being missed because of loopholes in the law.

“Maybe we should start looking at the travel history for everyone we arrest for possession of child pornography,” Robb said.

The CBSA says that since the beginning of this year, its officers in the GTA region have made eight seizures of goods containing child exploitation images.

How many people accidentally caught with child pornography  might also be engaging in child sex tourism?

One indication of the nexus between child abuse images and travelling sex offenders came to light in the arrest last month of an 82-year-old man from Quebec charged with the alleged sexual exploitation of children in the Dominican Republic.

Canada Border Services Agency officers in a random check decided to look at the computer of Joseph-Charles-Philippe Cote last October as he was returning from a Caribbean holiday.  They found disturbing pictures of young children, according to a Canadian Press story that cited a subsequent search warrant by the Surete de Quebec.

It was enough for the provincial police to launch an investigation and –- once they discovered Cote had since returned to his favourite beach destination in the Domincan Republic -- they issued an arrest warrant for him and secured an Interpol Red Notice.

In late February, Cote -- who had no previous criminal record -- was arrested in the Dominican Republic and flown back to appear in a Montreal court.

Now he faces not just seven counts of child pornography, but also accusations of hands-on offences for sexually interfering with minors.

 

Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter with the Star and the author of two books on child exploitation. He can be reached at jsher@thestar.ca and on Twitter @juliansher.

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