Saturday, January 31, 2009
Charges are appropriate for overseas child-sex offences, court rules
Man faces 35 charges in B.C.
A landmark decision from the B.C. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of child-sex tourism charges against Canadians overseas, and could see an influx in charges coming to light, says an expert.
Benjamin Perrin, assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia, said a judge's ruling Friday in the case of Kenneth Klassen may give the Crown more confidence to prosecute sex tourism cases.
Klassen, who faces 35 charges in B.C. related to the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in Colombia, Cambodia and the Philippines, was challenging the charges because the alleged offences had occurred outside Canada.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen, however, has upheld the validity of the charges, potentially setting the stage for Canada to catch up to other countries with similar legislation."The case of Kenneth Klassen is the first decision we have from a court which conf irms that Canada's child-sex tourism law is constitutional," said Perrin. " This is a landmark decision that affirms Canada's step to hold our child-sex offenders accountable, wherever they commit their crimes.
"It's a very significant decision which creates an additional tool for prosecutors to point to in pursuing Canadian sex offenders abroad. It also removes one of the excuses for inaction that Canada has relied on in terms of our very poor record in enforcing this law in comparison to other countries like Australia and the U.S., which routinely enforce their legislation and bring their sex offenders home to face trial."
Just three people have been convicted of committing sex crimes against children in other countries since 1997, when Canada introduced its extra-territorial child-sex tourism law.
In 2004, Donald Bakker, also of B.C., was charged under the law in Canada and pleaded guilty the following year. Another two men a pair of Quebec aid workers stationed in Haiti were convicted of sexual exploitation in November 2008.
"Before [Bakker] pleaded guilty, his lawyer was threatening to challenge the constitutionality of the law and that created a bit of a chilling effect on police and prosecutors, who began to wonder if the law would withstand a constitutional challenge," Perrin said. "Canada was not seen as being very active internationally [in] enforcing its laws."
The track record in Australia and the U.S., however, is more impressive, said Perrin.
Perrin said that in the U.S., from 2003 to early 2008, there have been 67 arrests, resulting in 47 convictions with other cases still before the courts under similar laws.
The U.S. Court of Appeal upheld the validity of that country's child-sex laws in 2006.
In Australia, 158 investigations were conducted from 1995 to 2007. Of the 28 individuals facing charges, 19 were convicted, while others remain before the court. The basis of those charges were also upheld in 2006 by the Australian High Court.
Perrin said he hopes the decision by the B.C. Supreme Court can help put some weight behind Canada's law and result in a higher rate of enforcement.
"Now that his constitutional challenge has been rejected [Klassen] will have to face these very serious allegations and be exposed to the potential sentences for the charges if he's found guilty," Perrin said.
"More than that, it creates a great deal of pressure on the federal government to begin to consider whether the government will accept some international criticism and act on it. The federal government needs to make enforcement of this law a priority."
Created: February 2, 2009
Last modified: June 20, 2009
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