Via The Toronto Star’s Editorial Board:
Paradise for sex tourists
Cuba: land of sun, sand and cheap child prostitutes.
Cuba has long been a favourite sun-spot for Canadians. It’s relatively cheap, loaded with resorts and just 2,300 km away.
But some tourists are drawn by more its unspoiled beaches and fine cigars. The Caribbean island has become a magnet for men eager to engage in sex with pre-pubescent girls, some as young as four. A confidential 2011 RCMP report on child sex tourism, obtained by a Star investigative team using Canada’s Access to Information Act, identifies Cuba as one of the most popular destinations in the Americas for child sex tourism.
The Canadian government, while acknowledging sex offenders are going abroad to exploit children, has done little to stop them. The Cuban government, eager for hard currency, denies that a problem even exists.
“There are no exit records that are kept of these individuals so it’s very difficult for us to know whether someone is in fact leaving the country for these reasons,” Vic Toews, the federal minister of public safety, told the Star. “My preference is that these individuals are prosecuted within the jurisdiction where they are discovered.”
That is not likely to happen. Cuban police are willing to look the other way, if their palms are greased. The government rarely prosecutes foreign sexual predators. It refuses to release records of child exploitation to international or domestic relief agencies. And Raúl Castro – Fidel’s younger brother who succeeded him as president in 2008 – insists that the island is a family-friendly tourist mecca.
For four months, a team of Star reporters working with their counterparts from Miami’s Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, probed this illicit trade from the streets of Havana to the highest echelons of the law enforcement system, speaking to police, politicians, diplomats and citizens working to prevent the sexual abuse of children.
They found that sex with young girls in Cuba costs as little as $30 a night. A network of hotel staff, cabbies and pimps was eager to set up an encounter for a tourist – for a small fee. Impoverished families were so desperate for money – or so dazzled by gifts and material goods unavailable in Cuba – that they pushed their children into prostitution.
What they uncovered in Canada was equally shocking. The government of Stephen Harper, which trumpets its commitment to crack down on sexual predators, has so far turned an almost blind eye to sexual tourism. Only five individuals have been convicted for crimes against children outside the country.
Although Canada has had a law against abusing children abroad since 1997, it is undermined by the inability of law enforcement officials to monitor sexual offenders as they slip out of the country. Nor can border officials identify them when they return because they don’t have access to the national Sex Offender Registry. Under Ottawa’s privacy rules, the RCMP cannot share the list.
The result: Canadians are “among the most enthusiastic customers of the Cuban child sex trade.” Unless they do something stupid – such as take pornographic photos to a commercial outlet for printing – there is little chance they’ll be caught.
Canada can’t stop this blight alone. But there are some obvious steps it could take. It could exempt sex offenders from privacy rules that prevent border guards from recognizing them. Require anyone who has been charged or convicted of sexual crimes to report all trips outside the country. Increase fines and jail terms for those charged with sex tourism. Provide the RCMP’s Child Exploitation Unit with the resources it needs to investigate crimes against children abroad. Work more closely with American authorities to detect border-crossing sexual predators. And put pressure on the Cuban government to prosecute sex tourists.
In the wake of the Star’s reporting on this troubling issue, Toews is promising more action to fight international sex tourism. On Monday, he said the government is consulting with experts “in order to prevent traffickers and offenders from travelling abroad” and is “committed to putting an end to the sexual exploitation of children, no matter where it may occur.”
Those are welcome statements. The Conservatives never miss an opportunity to express their abhorrence for those who sexually exploit children. It’s high time the government backed up its rhetoric with strong action.