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Friday, May 28, 2010

Art dealer under police watch after admitting to sex tourism

A 59-year-old international art dealer who pleaded guilty to 15 sex tourism offences in Colombia and Cambodia is under police surveillance while awaiting sentencing, a judge was told Thursday.

Crown prosecutor Brendan McCabe is seeking to vary the bail of sex offender Kenneth Robert Klassen of Burnaby, to put him on the electronic monitoring program. Until then, McCabe told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen, Klassen is under police surveillance.

"He is aware of being followed," McCabe told the court.

Surveillance is being conducted by the Integrated Sexual Predator Observation team because the Crown considered Klassen a flight risk, said Vancouver RCMP Cpl. Annie Linteau.

Defence lawyer Ian Donaldson said a suitability report has to be done on Klassen to determine whether he's a good candidate for the electronic monitoring program, which requires a person to wear an ankle bracelet that is monitored electronically by a computer and connected to a phone line.

The bail variance matter was adjourned until 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Thursday's court appearance was originally scheduled for jury selection, but Klassen unexpectedly pleaded guilty last Friday to 15 counts, including 14 counts of sexual interference of young girls -- eight in Cambodia and six in Colombia.

The girls were all under the age of 14.

In Colombia, Klassen allegedly paid a "facilitator" to bring him girls on the back of a motorcycle. He also pleaded guilty to importing child pornography by mailing porn to himself from the Philippines. The offences occurred between December 1998 and September 2004.

A date for sentencing is expected to be set by next Tuesday.

Klassen was arrested at his Burnaby home in March 2007 and charged with 35 sex tourism offences involving 17 young girls, including three in the Philippines.

At the time, the offender was married with three children. He now is facing divorce.

It is only the third sex tourism case to be prosecuted in Canada.

The investigation of Klassen began at Vancouver International Airport on Aug. 27, 2004, when officers with Canada Border Service Agency identified a suspicious parcel that was labelled "quilts" but was found to contain undeclared DVDs with images of child pornography and bestiality.

The parcel, destined for a home in Burnaby, was monitored by police and was picked up by Klassen, who was then charged with possessing and importing child pornography.

Search warrants were subsequently executed on Klassen's home and a rented Vancouver storage locker, where police seized a video camera and 21 DVDs allegedly containing video clips of Klassen having sex with 92 girls in three countries. The girls were as young as nine.

Police recommended Crown approve charges involving 26 female victims and 39 international crime scenes. The Crown approved 35 charges involving 17 victims.

Up to 20 officers in Canada worked on the investigation, with the behavioural sciences group as the primary investigative unit. The group focuses on deviant sexual behaviour.

Fazeela Jiwa of Vancouver Rape Relief, who attended Thursday's proceeding along with a number of other women, said she is concerned Klassen is still on the streets.

"I think for sure surveillance is a good idea," she said outside court.

Also attending Thursday's proceedings was Holly Dignard of Vancouver, who operates the non-government organization Caleb's Hope, which does aid work in East Africa, helping former child soldiers, sex slaves and young mothers, many of whom are HIV positive.

She said sex tourism is a huge problem that few people are aware of in Canada.

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