Tuesday November 21, 2000

Scott Edmonds

Vancouver popular spot for sex tourists who prey on kids: report

Teenage prostitutes ply their trade on a Vancouver street. (CP/Vancouver Sun)

WINNIPEG (CP) — Vancouver is becoming a popular spot for sex tourists who prey on children, says a new report on the global fight against child exploitation. "In Vancouver, the increase in child sex tourism is attributed to rising levels of homeless children, the city's proximity to child sex hot spots in Asia and to the fact that information on the city's child sex trade is available on the Internet," said the report by Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based child abuse watchdog.

Spokesman Mark Hecht said Canada's age of consent for sex — 14 — may also be helping to lure pedophiles to the West Coast.

"We have created a local sex tourism destination in British Columbia."

Hecht and his partner at Beyond Borders, Roz Prober, were joined at a Monday news conference by Debbie Mahaffy, whose daughter was sexually abused and murdered by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

All three were critical of the steps Canada has taken since the 1996 conference in Stockholm, where the world promised to crack down on the sexual exploitation of children.

"Canada has historically been known as a 'sending' offender," said Hecht, an Ottawa lawyer.

"Canadians leave Canada and exploit foreign children and we have been trying to tackle that problem for many years."

In particular they pointed to the failure of Bill C-27 to stop Canadians from venturing abroad to have sex with children, and the well-publicized loophole that prevented an Alberta teacher from being prosecuted in Canada for abusing one of his young charges aboard.

The three accused the federal government of falling down on the job by not dealing with outdated and sometimes conflicting age of consent laws, ineffective legislation and a general lack of planning.

Hecht rejected assertions that Canada's federal-provincial political system, with its shared jurisdiction over justice issues, was somehow to blame. He said other countries with similar systems have no such problem.

Beyond Borders released the report in Canada on behalf of ECPAT, which stands for End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking.

The 178-page report - Looking back, Thinking Forward - was sponsored by the European Union and the Swedish International Development Agency.

It surveyed the response of 124 countries, rating them on their plans, monitoring systems and legislative measures to fight child sexual exploitation.

Canada received three out of four stars for its attempts to deal with the problem, but so did Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The United States received just two stars.

Mexico received four for the best response in North and Central America to the Stockholm conference.

"It both saddens and angers me that Canada does not lead the world in protecting children," said Mahaffy, who works for victims of crime out of the Ontario attorney general's office.

The three said candidates for the Nov. 27 federal election should clearly state where they stand on major issues such as mending Canada's flawed child-sex legislation, raising the age of consent to at least 16 and developing a federal plan to tackle the overall issue.

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Created: November 21, 2000
Last modified: January 21, 2001
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