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
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.