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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Trail of a Sex Tourist: Canada's limited success in pursuing pedophiles

Donald Bakker, a B.C. father, was the first Canadian convicted under the child sex-tourism law.

Canadians travelling abroad to have sex with children is an abhorrent and shocking offence, punishable under Canada's Criminal Code. But are some Canadians getting away with this crime? Canada's so-called child sex-tourism law is supposed to punish Canadians who travel overseas to have sex with children. It's a law that has been on the books since 1997, but in more than a decade only three Canadians have been convicted.

W-FIVE takes an in-depth look at the unprecedented international investigation and arrest of Donald Bakker - Canada's first conviction under the law, and asks why Canadian authorities aren't doing more to catch its pedophiles overseas.

It's Dec. 2, 2003 in Vancouver's CRAB Park, a little patch of green tucked between the harbour and nearby railway tracks. Screams are heard from the bushes. A city worker taking a lunch break nearby calls 911. Vancouver Police are quickly dispatched to the scene.
Brian McConaghy, a former RCMP firearms specialist, runs the Ratanak Foundation, a charity that helps child victims of sexual exploitation. Vancouver Police enlisted his expertise in finding key identifiers in the video that narrowed down the location of the Asian brothels.

Police find a hysterical woman running from the shrubs and a middle-aged man carrying a blue bag. That man is Donald Bakker, a 40-year-old husband and father.

Bakker is arrested and brought in for questioning. In the bag, police find a disturbing videotape of Bakker sexually assaulting the woman in the park and torturing prostituted women he had picked up on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

With Donald Bakker in custody, police executed a search warrant of the home Bakker shared with his wife and infant son. The 11-hour search unearthed a cache of hardcore pornography. A search of his car revealed more videotapes showing Bakker torturing adult women.

Even more disturbing was video of Bakker sexually assaulting young Asian girls.

Sgt. Ron Bieg, a 20-year veteran with the Vancouver Police, couldn't believe his eyes when he reviewed the seized evidence.

"First of all you're just awestruck. You're just going, 'this can't be happening'," Bieg told W-FIVE's Victor Malarek.

Bieg led a team of more than 50 investigators to find the women in the videos. But the more daunting task was to locate seven Asian girls -- some as young as seven years of age -- which required dozens of officers and international help.

According to Bieg and Sgt. Benedikte Wilkinson, the biggest help came from Brian McConaghy. He's a former RCMP firearms specialist who now runs the Ratanak Foundation, a Cambodian-based charity that helps rehabilitate child victims of sexual exploitation.

Bieg sent the Bakker tapes to McConaghy, who knows Cambodia, its brothels, and has witnessed first-hand the trauma experienced by young girls sold to foreign pedophiles for sex.

It was McConaghy's deft eye that helped narrow down the location of the brothels where the tape was shot and where Bakker had paid the young girls for oral sex.

"There were the children who were speaking a combination of Vietnamese and Khmer," said McConaghy, recalling how he was able to find the brothel. "Khmer's the Cambodian language. So that's a big clue right there. Some of the kids had a thing called a Kroma which is a checkered scarf that's classically Cambodian."

On the tape, McConaghy also identified a Cambodian calendar from 2003 on the wall. It was another important clue for Vancouver Police, giving them a probable date for Bakker's sex-tourist visit to Cambodia.

The next step for Bieg and Wilkinson was to travel to Cambodia -- to the squalor and filth of the brothels -- in order to bring home the evidence that was needed to secure Bakker's conviction.

"It's squalor. The streets were dirty. There's garbage everywhere. There's sewage everywhere, you know, open sewage," Wilkinson told W-FIVE.

Inside one brothel they found clear evidence that this was where Bakker had sex with children. Smudges on the wall matched the video. So did photographs. Combined with the other evidence it was enough to secure Bakker's conviction under Canada's child sex-tourism law. Bakker eventually pleaded guilty to those crimes, and the brutal sexual assaults of some Vancouver prostitutes, Bakker is now serving a 10-year sentence.

Few successes

The world-wide investigation of Donald Bakker and his conviction was not case-closed. It unfurled a debate about why Canada isn't doing more to capture and arrest Canadians who have sex with minors overseas.

Bakker is one of only three Canadians to be convicted under the 12-year-old child sex tourism law, prompting some legal experts to suggest Canadian law enforcement isn't doing enough to investigate and bring pedophiles to justice.

Benjamin Perrin, who teaches law at the University of British Columbia, argues that the low number of convictions doesn't reflect the true number of Canadians seeking sex with children overseas.

"We know for a fact that Canadians are among this group of international sex offenders," said Perrin in an interview.

He obtained records through Access to Information requests that show between 1993 and 2008, despite few convictions at home, at least 156 Canadians faced local charges in foreign jurisdictions for offences related to child sex abuse and exploitation.

"Canada passed a child sex tourism law in 1997, saying basically you abuse children abroad, we're going after you," "What Canada did is pass the law and basically forgot about it," said Perrin.

Instead, as Perrin told W-FIVE, Canada seems to rely on other countries to investigate and arrest Canadian pedophiles offending overseas - in countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brazil and Mexico.

"We have a series of recent cases where the American authorities have actually been catching Canadian offenders in their own dragnets and having to charge them under U.S. law, trying to extradite them to U.S. courts for crimes these Canadians committed in developing countries for abusing children."

Leave it to Americans

On Dec. 15, 2008, American investigators arranged for the arrest of Canadian John Wrenshall, following an investigation in Thailand. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) led the investigation into Wrenshall's activities. The Canadian had moved to Thailand after completing a prison sentence in Alberta for indecently assaulting eight young choir boys.

The 62-year-old English teacher was arrested, in London, England, on child sex tourism related charges, as he was trying to make his way his way back to Canada. He is currently awaiting extradition to the U.S.

To date, Canadian authorities have not initiated any charges against Wrenshall for his alleged offences in Thailand.

"I cannot think of any good reason why Canada should not have laid these charges and why we're foisting the investigative burden onto the U.S. taxpayers," said Perrin.

"Why are U.S. taxpayers paying to prosecute a Canadian sex offender for what he allegedly did abroad? He's our problem to deal with. If there's evidence against him, we should be prosecuting him."
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Climate change a threat to Metro

By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Filed Under: Climate Change, Environmental Issues, Local authorities

MANILA, Philippines – Metro Manila ranks as the seventh most vulnerable area to climate change in Southeast Asia, a recent study said.

The study, titled “Climate Change Vulnerability in Southeast Asia” conducted by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) over a period of six months, listed Central Jakarta in Indonesia as the most vulnerable.

It is followed by North Jakarta, West Jakarta, Mondol Kiri in Cambodia, East Jakarta, and Rotanokiri area also in Cambodia.

The South Jakarta area came in eighth, the Kota Bandung area ninth and the Kota Surabaya area rounded up the top ten vulnerable areas.

Dr. Herminia Francisco, an environmental economist who authored the study, said these areas would be vulnerable to hazards like tropical cyclones, floods, landslides, drought, and sea level rise brought about by changes in the climate.

Francisco presented the findings of the study, funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) based in Canada, in a press conference Friday in Makati City.

She said the study was conducted to help affected communities as well as decision makers come up with ways to adapt to climate change.

Francisco said the areas were judged on their exposure to hazards, the large sensitivity of the communities there due to population density, and the low adaptive capacity of the community to climate change due to limitations on infrastructure, technology and poverty levels.

“We want to open the eyes of the public and decision makers on the effects of climate change so the allocation of funds could be specific to these areas. The resources could be directed to these areas to help the communities adapt to climate change,” Francisco said.

She explained that they used an index of overall climate change vulnerability for Southeast Asia and ranked the regions accordingly.

“Based on this mapping assessment, all regions of the Philippines, the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, almost all regions of Cambodia, North and East Laos, the Bangkok region of Thailand and the West Sumatra, South Sumatra, Western Java, and Eastern Java areas of Indonesia are among the most vulnerable regions in Southeast Asia,” Francisco said.

The study also identified other areas in the country aside from Metro Manila as highly vulnerable to climate change.

These areas are Northern Samar, Benguet, Masbate, Batanes, Zamboanga del Norte, Ilocos Sur, Western Samar, Albay, and Lanao del Norte.
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A French Accent

By Lavanya Ramanathan

This month, Smithsonian Associates and the local Francophonie Committee celebrate the French-speaking world with a Francophonie Festival, a series of films, concerts, parties and a seminar with representation from Mali, Switzerland, Cambodia, France and other nations. Some of the scheduled events: Wednesday, the French Embassy screens "Seuls Two," Eric Judor and Ramzy Bedia's comedy about a relentless cop whose nemesis, a burglar, has been making a fool of him -- evading capture for years. With Kristin Scott Thomas.

Wednesday, March 11. $10; Smithsonian Resident Associates, students, Cinémathèque and Alliance Française members, $8. 7 p.m. La Maison Française, Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Rd. NW. For reservations, e-mail
Next Friday, Malian musical prodigy Mamadou Diabaté plays the kora at the Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium. A kora is the 21-string West African equivalent of a harp, and Diabaté comes from a family of performers and storytellers. $22; members, $18. 7:30 p.m. Friday. National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.

The festival wraps next month with a party dedicated to the Discotheque Underground on the Mall. (If that sounds familiar, there was a similar bash that sold out in 2007.) Swiss DJ Jay Style is joined by Parisian spin-derella DJ Evâa Pearl for a Euro-themed bash in the literally underground Ripley Center.
$30; members, $25. April 3, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW.
For tickets and details about all Francophonie Festival events, call 202-633-3030 or visit (search for Francophonie).

The New Orleans-by-way-of-Sweden pop singer is even better to see than she is to hear: She has grabbed tons of attention as a one-woman band, playing everything from drums to dulcimer, pressing all the pedals and turning all the knobs -- often with bare, nimble feet. The rising musician, touring on the release of her latest album, "Hummingbird, Go!," is at Jammin' Java tonight. $12 at the door; $10 advance. 7 p.m. Jammin' Java, 227 Maple Ave. E., Vienna. 703-255-1566, Ext. 8, or

The District
For Families Exploring
The Free Side Of Arabesque

The thousand-plus folks who saw K'Naan play the Millennium Stage last week already know: There is plenty of fabulous stuff to do at the Kennedy Center's Arab arts festival that doesn't require you to crack your wallet. Today, catch the lecture "Literature and the 'Real' Arab World" at 11 a.m. or hear "The Map of Love" author Ahdaf Soueif and other writers discuss creating Arab-themed literature in various languages at 4 p.m. Go tonight to see "Def Poetry Jam" writer Suheir Hammad's "An Evening of Breaking Poems," showcasing her Brooklyn/Palestinian style. Whenever you go, be sure to check out the exhibitions and the fantastic souk (market), filled with stunning, pricey lamps and plenty of less-pricey knickknacks from abroad. Free. Tickets for the author talks at 11 and 4 are available by phone or at the box office; the Millennium Stage show is at 6 and tickets are not required. Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600 or for a full schedule, visit

The District
Concert Kimya Dawson: Love Her Or, Well, Don't

There can, admittedly, be a cloying childishness to Dawson's music (her old band, the Moldy Peaches, annoyed some crowds), but every now and then her songs about video games and insecurities about hipster boys can hit the spot (for some people, anyway). We know this to be true because of the comeback the Peaches' limited oeuvre experienced, thanks to the movie "Juno." But we can't help but wonder: Are listeners ready to put away childish things? It'll be up to the crowd at Dawson's show tonight at the Black Cat. Tickets are $13. 9 p.m. 1811 14th St. NW. or 202-397-7328.
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