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    Toronto sex offender could be first Canadian convicted of child sex tourism in Cuba

    Toronto sex offender could be first Canadian convicted of child sex

    tourism in Cuba

    Toronto man James McTurk, 78, has been convicted twice on child porn

    charges, and now faces charges of child sex tourism for abusing children

    in Cuba.

    At the Toronto Police Service, a small group of investigators is

    dedicated to sifting through cyberspace – on the hunt for child predators.

    By: Jennifer Quinn Robert Cribb and Julian Sher, Published on Fri Mar 15


    James McTurk is 78. He has wispy white hair and glasses, and speaks with

    a soft Scottish accent. He lives on a pension — and in a jail cell.

    The Toronto man has been convicted twice on child pornography charges,

    and his legal troubles have just intensified: McTurk could become the

    first person in Canada to be convicted of child sex tourism for abusing

    children in Cuba.

    He is now one of a very small group of Canadian men to face charges for

    the crime of child sex tourism. Only five are known to have been convicted.

    McTurk does not travel to Cambodia or Thailand, destinations of choice

    for those who seek sex with children. All of his known and alleged

    victims have been Cuban girls. All were young, and some were very young

    — police currently allege some as young as 4 years old.

    McTurk has spent several years on Canada's National Sex Offender

    Registry, but he was able to make repeated trips abroad until he was

    caught last summer, almost by accident. He was arrested at Toronto's

    Lester B. Pearson airport upon his return, once again, from Cuba.

    According to court documents — and to McTurk himself, in interviews with

    police — he travels there frequently.

    Photos View gallery

    James McTurk shown in a photograph taken during a 2012 trip to

    Cuba. If found guilty, he will be the first Canadian convicted of child

    sex tourism that took place in Cuba.. zoom

    Like tens of thousands of convicted sex offenders across Canada, McTurk

    was free to come and go, whenever he wanted, to destinations where sex

    is cheap and victims are young. Despite an addition to the Criminal Code

    in 1997 allowing the prosecution of Canadians for crimes committed

    against children outside the country, child sex tourists appear to be

    undeterred, and mostly undetected.

    A succession of Canadian governments have declared their intention to

    eradicate the problem of child sex tourism, saying children abroad are

    as deserving of protection from predators as kids here. UNICEF estimates

    there are as many as 2 million children involved in the sex trade.

    But there are significant loopholes in the system. Supervision of the

    travel of sex offenders is lax. The privacy of convicted offenders is

    prioritized. The process of laying sex tourism charges is an arduous one

    for police. Ultimately, it appears Canada is failing in its moral

    obligation to protect children.

    "Talking about child protection is really easy for governments to do

    because there is nobody who is going to argue the other side," says Mark

    Hecht, a co-founder and legal counsel for Beyond Borders, a

    Winnipeg-based group that fights global child exploitation. "If you

    stand up as a government and say you stand firmly against children being

    sexually abused, who is going to say they disagree with that?

    "But if you actually break that down into what that requires, that's

    where there is a lack of political will."

    An investigation by the Star and El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald's

    Spanish-language sister paper, has revealed loopholes in the system

    meant to monitor offenders. The result is that Canadian sex offenders,

    unlike those convicted in the United States, the United Kingdom or

    Australia, aren't closely monitored:

    In Canada, sex offenders don't have to tell anyone they're travelling if

    it's for less than a week — and they can advise just before getting on a

    plane. The U.K. demands all travel by convicted offenders be reported,

    and they have to tell authorities at least seven days in advance. The

    same is true in Australia. Many American states require 21 days' advance

    notice of travel.

    In Canada, if offenders decide not to tell anyone they're travelling,

    and are caught, the penalties are relatively soft: a maximum of two

    years or a $10,000 fine. In the U.K., the penalty could be as much as

    five years behind bars. In the U.S., the federal penalty for not

    complying with sex offender registry rules is as many as 10 years'


    In Canada, even if sex offenders do comply and notify authorities they

    are travelling, they don't need to tell anyone where they're going, or

    provide an itinerary. The U.S., the U.K. and Australia all require

    detailed travel plans in advance.

    And unlike other jurisdictions, Canada doesn't monitor who is leaving

    the country, and so can't catch sex offenders on the way out. On the way

    back into Canada, a child sex tourist is unlikely to be caught because

    border agents aren't on the lookout for them and don't have the tools to

    catch them, such as front-line access to police data of criminal

    histories or the names listed in provincial or national sex offender


    "These people are passing right underneath our noses," says Jean-Pierre

    Fortin, head of the Customs and Immigration Union, which has been

    pushing for such access for Canada Border Services Agency inspectors.

    The job of keeping track of child sex tourists is becoming even more

    challenging as destinations such as Cuba emerge, eclipsing hotspots in

    Southeast Asia. An internal 2011 Royal Canadian Mounted Police report,

    released to the Star under access-to-information legislation, cited Cuba

    as the most popular destination in the Americas for child sex tourism —

    and the Americas' most visited region for Canadians travelling abroad

    for sex with kids.

    McTurk, Toronto Police allege, was one of those tourists.

    No evidence against McTurk has been heard in court, and the charges

    against him are unproven. The case against him and his criminal

    convictions are detailed in a sworn affidavit for a search warrant,

    obtained by the Star, along with interviews of investigators.

    The police investigation into the diminutive retired postal worker has

    led to a dozen charges: possession of, importation of and access to

    child pornography in Canada, and another nine for child sex tourism that

    include sexual touching of minors with his hands, mouth and penis.

    Most of the sex tourism charges carry a potential penalty of between

    five and 10 years in prison upon conviction.

    Toronto police first learned of the allegations from a Loblaws manager

    who called them after an upset photo development clerk spotted images,

    in for printing, showing sad, half-naked children.

    The affidavit includes the clerk's perception of the images: "The

    children were not smiling and she believed that they looked frightened."

    When police looked at the name of the man who had placed the photo

    order, James McTurk, an alert cop recognized it — police are obliged to

    check on the addresses of sex offenders once a year.

    The case made its way to the force's Child Exploitation Unit, which

    investigates sexual crimes against children. It landed on Det.-Const.

    Paul Robb's desk.

    Robb and his boss, Det.-Sgt. Kim Gross, concluded child pornography

    charges were justified, and three of those were quickly laid. But this

    time, Gross wanted her team to pursue child sex tourism charges against


    "As far as I'm concerned we have a duty to protect children in countries

    other than Canada," Gross said.

    Robb swore out a search warrant, alleging that once inside McTurk's

    North York apartment he would find evidence of sexual crimes against

    children — committed in Cuba.

    "It's new legal territory, because I can't give any statements of the

    victims or the dates or place of the crime," Robb said.

    The affidavit cites McTurk's two previous convictions for child

    pornography, in 1995 and 1998, both of which involved girls in Cuba. It

    lays out a travel record, obtained by police from the Canada Border

    Services Agency, that indicates McTurk visited Cuba dozens of times over

    a four-year span.

    Robb found McTurk had made eight trips to Cuba in 2009, another eight

    the following year, 10 more in 2011 and five in just the first few

    months of 2012. In the four months that police were investigating McTurk

    in 2012, he visited Cuba twice.

    "Based on James McTurk's past history and his apparent continuing

    behaviour, investigators are very concerned for the safety of these

    young Cuban girls," Robb's search warrant affidavit says.

    The warrant approved, Robb headed to McTurk's North York apartment. When

    the 10-year veteran of the force knocked on the door on July 11, 2012,

    McTurk wasn't there.

    He was in Cuba.

    On July 24, 2012, two weeks after Robb searched the apartment, McTurk

    arrived on a charter flight back from the beach resort of Varadero. The

    detective was there to welcome him home.

    Robb arranged for McTurk to be stopped by customs officials — who

    normally would have had no reason to suspect the elderly gentleman of

    any wrongdoing — and waited.

    McTurk presented his passport. The border agents told the unsuspecting

    McTurk to step aside for a "secondary" inspection where Robb and another

    officer were waiting to make the arrest.

    In an interview, Robb said McTurk had only a carry-on bag when he was

    arrested. Inside, police found about a dozen electronic devices,

    including a camera, digital storage cards and USB keys containing images

    from his trip. The video and photo evidence are the basis of the sex

    tourism charges for sexual touching and interference against people

    "under the age of 16 years."

    In interviews, Toronto child exploitation investigators say that while

    they can't know the precise age of the alleged victims, they believe the

    girls involved were as young as four years old.

    Police immediately charged McTurk with possession of, accessing and

    importing child pornography. And then they began the arduous legal

    process of having the child sex tourism charges laid.

    Toronto police can't lay those charges on their own; they must first get

    approval from Ontario prosecutors. So Robb drew up an application to the

    attorney general, outlining the case. That wound its way through the

    ministry, getting approval from local and then regional Crown attorneys,

    and then landing in the attorney general's office in late January.

    The charges were finally signed off on Feb. 12. On Monday, McTurk's case

    will be in front of a judge in a north Toronto courthouse for an early

    hearing in a case that isn't likely to conclude for many months.

    (Through his lawyer, McTurk declined to speak with the Star.)

    McTurk's first brush with the law was in 1995, when he was convicted of

    possessing child pornography. A clerk at a central photo developing

    plant in Stratford had reported "some disturbing photos" which

    "portrayed adolescent girls in sexual activity with an older man,"

    according to the police report at the time.

    Brought in for questioning by Stratford police, where he then lived,

    McTurk gave a voluntary written statement in which he "admitted that he

    had experienced sexual intercourse with two of the girls in the photos

    while he was vacationing in Cuba," reads Robb's affadivit. The report

    cites McTurk as saying the girls were 17; at the time, he was 61.

    In Cuba, the age of consent is 16, so sex with those girls would not

    have been illegal. But under Canada's Criminal Code, taking images of

    anyone under 18 engaging in sexual activity is.

    According to Robb's affidavit, McTurk pleaded guilty to possession of

    child pornography and received a two-year conditional discharge — no

    jail time or criminal record, just a promise to stay on good behaviour.

    Three years later, he was in trouble again, this time after an

    acquaintance told police he had seen videotapes of McTurk having sex

    with several Cuban girls.

    Another search warrant, and when police entered his new North York home,

    they found numerous photographs and videotapes, including one that

    showed "three females, approximately 14 years old, naked and being

    fondled by McTurk," Robb's affidavit says.

    Police arrested McTurk on Sept. 12, 1998, within hours of boarding a

    plane for another trip to Cuba.

    The RCMP child sex tourism report says taking images of sexual activity

    is common: they're considered trophies, or a way of "reliving" the

    experience. And the November 2011 report adds that children are "lured

    with promises of money, clothes and material goods," and that families

    can "receive financial compensation for allowing access."

    For the videos taken in Cuba, McTurk received another conviction for

    possession of child pornography, and another conditional sentence of 18

    months, plus another 18 months of probation. According to court

    documents, McTurk had to surrender his passport and undergo counseling

    for "sex offender treatment programming." And so the trips to Cuba would

    have to stop, at least until he got his passport back.

    But this conviction had another consequence. In 2001, Ontario set up

    Canada's first sex offenders registry, in the wake of the 1988 murder of

    11-year-old Christopher Stephenson, who was killed by a convicted

    pedophile. Because McTurk was still on probation as a sex offender, he

    landed on that list, police said.

    Being placed on the sex offenders registry sounds punitive. But in

    reality, the conditions are not terribly troublesome: those on the list

    need to tell police where they live, and work, and their address is

    checked yearly by officers. No need to say when you're travelling if

    it's just short trips — and no need to tell anyone where you're going.

    Once McTurk had his travel documents returned, he headed back south. He

    continued to be a regular visitor to Cuba, as Toronto police discovered

    when McTurk's activities came to light for a third time last spring,

    thanks to the Loblaws the photo clerk.

    And as McTurk waits in a Milton jail cell, officers investigating his

    case wonder 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

    "There's a helplessness on the faces of these children that is very

    striking," Gross added. "Whether it be within our borders or outside our

    borders . . . we have an obligation to these children."

    The Ugly Canadians is a series produced jointly by the Toronto Star and

    El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister publication of The Miami

    Herald. Watch W5's coverage of this investigation tonight at 7 p.m. on CTV.