03/16/13 - Miami Herald - James McTurk: Portrait of an alleged sex tourist in Cuba
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.
He has been twice convicted on child pornography charges, and his legal
troubles have just intensified: McTurk could become the first person in
Canada to be convicted of sex tourism in connection with the abuse of
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.
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 - as young as 4.
McTurk has spent several years on Canada's 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,
returning - once again - from Cuba.
According to court documents - and to McTurk himself, in interviews with
police - he travels there frequently.
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
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 in Canada. UNICEF estimates
there are as many as two million children involved in the sex trade.
But there are big loopholes in the system. Supervision of the travel of sex
offenders is lax. The privacy of convicted offenders is prioritized. The
process of filing sex tourism charges is an arduous one for police.
Ultimately, it appears Canada is failing in its moral obligation to protect
"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 Toronto 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 traveling 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
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