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Travelling Child Sexual Offenders – Is the Canadian Policing Community Prepared?

The sexual exploitation (for example, child pornography, child prostitution, travelling child sex offenders, luring and/or abduction for sexual purposes ) of children and youth knows no borders – it affects all people (children, youth, women, and men) of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds and of all socio-economic statuses.  The Internet has altered the way child sexual exploitation offences are committed, investigated, and prosecuted in Canada.

The National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre (NCECC) (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Police Services) was created in response to the growing and disturbing crime of Internet-facilitated child sexual exploitation.  The Centre’s mandate is to reduce the vulnerability of children to Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation by identifying victimized children; investigating and assisting in the prosecution of sexual offenders; and, strengthening the capacity of municipal, territorial, provincial, federal, and international police agencies through training, research, and investigative support.  Recent cases involving Canadians suspected of travelling to other countries and sexually abusing children indicate an emerging threat as well as illustrate the importance of global cooperation between police agencies.

 
“This case is a clear example of the impact and cooperation of international law enforcement and our mutual commitment to the investigation of online sexual exploitation of children.” — Supt. E.K. McColl, Officer in Charge of the NCECC, as cited in the Virtual Global Taskforce Newsletter,
July 2007

Case Study: Christopher Paul Neil
In 2004, German investigators found over 200 images in an Internet Newsgroup depicting a man sexually abusing a number of young boys.  The offender had digitally altered the images in an effort to mask his identity.  Using various image analysis techniques, investigators were able to determine that the images were produced in Thailand and Cambodia.  Analysts and technical experts worldwide (including Canadian) unscrambled the offender’s digital alterations to reveal the face of the perpetrator.  After various searches of police databases and communication with international police organizations, Interpol members took the unprecedented step of releasing the suspect’s image to the public.  Within days of this release, Interpol identified the suspect as Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian citizen.  Interpol issued a worldwide bulletin and Neil was taken into police custody in Thailand, October 19, 2007.    

Public Assistance in Travelling Child Sex Offender Investigations
The Neil case demonstrates some of the benefits of the release of information to the public related to the identification of suspected child sexual offenders.  At a November meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, delegates from Interpol voted in favour of expanding the use of public appeals, including releasing images of suspected offenders, as a potentially useful strategy to identify and locate suspects depicted in child sexual abuse images (child pornography).  This type of release is intended for cases in which all other efforts to identify an offender have been exhausted and police have determined that the offender has not already been identified and/or apprehended.   

In Canada, the medium through which such releases would occur is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Wanted Persons website.  Decisions to post on this site will be made on a case by case basis with significant strategic guidance by the NCECC.  Although posting images of ‘most wanted’ suspects is not new to policing, it is not yet common in cases involving Internet-facilitated child sexual exploitation.  Steps will be taken to ensure that the privacy rights of individuals have been carefully considered.  However, the potential threat posed by an offender to public safety and, more importantly, to the children to whom s/he has access often renders releasing suspect images justifiable and reasonable. 

Extra-Territorial Prosecutions: Impacts on the Canadian Police Community
The Neil case draws attention to Canada’s extra-territorial legislation.  Generally, countries prosecute individuals who engage in an activity that contravenes their own legislation.  Therefore, Canadians or Canadian residents who commit crimes in foreign countries will typically be dealt with by the criminal justice system of the country in which they committed the crimes.  However, when Canadians or Canadian residents have committed certain crimes (e.g., crimes against children, crimes against humanity, terrorism) in foreign countries, Canada’s extra-territorial legislation may allow for the offender to be prosecuted in Canada. 

Extra-territorial legislation can be enacted to deal with situations where a foreign country does not have existing legislation to address activity that would be considered a serious offence in Canada (e.g., sexual abuse/exploitation of a child), in situations where countries cannot or will not prosecute an offender, or when an offender has returned to Canada. 

To date, prosecutions are handled by the last jurisdiction in Canada where the offender resided. Therefore, any Canadian police service may become involved in these cases.  As well, family members, friends, potential witnesses, or other victims could be located in various police jurisdictions.

To prosecute a suspect in Canada, the country that has custody of the offender must first consent to extradition.  A provincial Attorney General must approve prosecution of the suspect and must consult with the Department of Justice’s International Assistance Group.  Canadian police may be requested to participate in various aspects of an investigation.  It is quite possible that a suspect may have committed crimes in Canada that have gone previously undetected.  Therefore, it is imperative that any investigation into his/her illegal activities is thoroughly completed.    

There can be a wide range of challenges including obtaining evidence through foreign authorities, language barriers, locating and supporting victims and witnesses, and ensuring that offenders are not charged with the same offence in two countries.  Canadian law enforcement agencies can contact the NCECC for assistance in these matters.

VGT Success
• Canadian law enforcement forwarded intelligence to the Child Exploitation Online Protection Agency in 2006. 

• Undercover project was initiated drawing on the expertise of the VGT countries. 

• More than 700 suspects from 35 different countries have been identified and most importantly, 31 children have been rescued and/or removed from harm. 

Prioritizing Travelling Child Sexual Offenders –The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT)
The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) is comprised of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP‑NCECC), the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AFP), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the UK (CEOP), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Italian Postal Police, and Interpol.  These agencies work together to protect children from Internet-facilitated child sexual exploitation.  As Thailand is a popular destination for travelling child sex offenders, the VGT has initiated an operation that will target VGT-country citizens who travel to Thailand to sexually abuse children.  The NCECC has drafted a proposal for Canadian participation in this initiative and deployment of members from Canada is under review.  For more information about the Virtual Global Taskforce, please visit www.virtualglobaltaskforce.com


The National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre
Research and Development Section