When evil is cloaked as good

The conviction of two Quebec aid workers for sexual offences committed in Haiti suggests Canada's law against sex tourism is working - or perhaps that it's not nearly enough

By Don Lajoie, Canwest News Service

December 16, 2009 / montrealgazzette.com

Stricken with malaria and surrounded by violence, Armand Huard barely got out of Haiti alive.

But the Quebec humanitarian was determined to return to the orphanage where he volunteered in Les Cayes, 200 kilometres from the capital Port-au-Prince, telling Radio Canada in 2004: "Haiti for me is almost like my country."

His 12 years of good deeds with impoverished kids prompted Association Grandir, the humanitarian group to which he was aligned, to dub him "a true Father Teresa."

"You have to see him among the people, eating and sleeping as they do, to understand that a commitment like his is a rare thing," Grandir said on its website.

Five years later, Father Teresa is a Quebec prison inmate.

Huard, 65, was sentenced to three years for sexually assaulting young Haitian boys while a second Quebecer, Denis Rochefort, 59, received two years.

A dozen young Haitians had complained to the local police that Huard and Rochefort molested them while working in the Les Cayes orphanage between December 2006 and March 2007.

When no action was taken, Haitian police officers who were not satisfied with the investigation shared their frustration with Canadian counterparts on a mission in Haiti.

The Sûreté du Québec launched its own probe, sending an investigator to interview the children, and the pair was arrested in February 2008.

Huard pleaded guilty on the day his eight victims - boys between 13 and 16 at the time of the incidents - were to testify at his preliminary hearing by video conference from the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince.

In sentencing the men, Justice Pierre Verdon called their acts "shameful" for abusing "the poorest and the most vulnerable."

The convictions of Huard and Rochefort, and the November arrest of former Windsor priest Rev. John Duarte on charges he sexually assaulted underage boys in Port-au-Prince and the fishing village of Labadie, have raised questions about whether Canada is doing enough to thwart sex tourism in its missions.

Speaking in Port-au-Prince to a Windsor Star team investigating humanitarian misconduct, Jeanne Bernard Pierre, director general of Haiti's Institute of Well-Being and Social Research, said Canada should perform background checks on aid workers, soldiers and missionaries bound for her country.

"If a Haitian wants to immigrate to Canada they have to go through all sorts of background checks," Pierre said. "They're checked for health, visas, criminal background. Whereas to come to Haiti things are much more lax. It needs to be certified that a person is of good moral character before they come (to Haiti)."

Pierre, while lauding Canada for its assistance "in many fields," asked how Canadians would feel if the situation were reversed - foreigners abusing kids on Canadian soil.

However, a leading Canadian child welfare advocate said the three arrests of Canadians may indicate that our sex tourism laws have gone beyond "window dressing."

David Butt, a onetime Toronto Crown prosecutor who is now secretary of ECPAT International - the largest international organization dedicated to combating the sexual exploitation of children worldwide - said the Criminal Code provision, which has been on the books since 1997, has proved to be "a very simple one to pass but difficult to put into practice" because of high costs and complicated logistics.

"If you put a law in the books you have to commit to make it enforceable or it's just window dressing at best, an illusion at worst," Butt said. "That this proactive co-ordination between Canadian investigators and Haitian police appears to have paid dividends is good. We need to see more of that."

Butt said one of the major roadblocks to applying the Canadian law is police enforcement in the country where the offences are alleged. Many developing nations, such as Haiti, have relatively small, under-equipped police .

"They have the talent to do the job," said Gilles Savard, a former Quebec police detective who specialized in child abuse cases in Canada for 10 years and now works as a consultant for UNICEF in Haiti on child protection issues.

"I helped teach them how to organize a sexual-assault

investigation and they were easily trained. There is good potential for this unit. The police here are good and professional."

Ray Bonnell, former chief superintendent of the RCMP and now in charge of international relations and special Initiatives for the department's National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre in Ottawa, said to work effectively, Canada's extraterritorial laws require a high level of co-operation with international police agencies. He said the investigation of such international cases is a priority. Nevertheless, he said, there are limitations to what can be accomplished.

"Extraterritorial investigations are complex and costly," he said. "But the government is under pressure... because the crime is so repugnant to people. Proceeding at all comes down to the chances of a successful prosecution."

He would not speak specifically about cases before the courts or the costs involved in each investigation, explaining the price tag can vary depending on factors such as location and complexity. There's also the possibility of transporting witnesses to Canada, the hiring of interpreters and the expenses of videotaping interviews.

However, he said, the 45-member staff of the centre acts on all complaints and receives "dozens" each year. "We validate all the information and take a good look to ensure we have a strong case before committing to the cost."

Butt, who as a lawyer gained expertise prosecuting a number of cases involving sex crimes against children and Internet child pornography, said Canada, as one of leading exporting nations of sex tourists, has an obligation to pursue such cases.

He noted that, while figures on the actual numbers involved are scarce in a country like Haiti, one study showed Canada ranked second only to the United States in the numbers of travellers seeking sex in Costa Rica.

A second study, by B.C. law professor Benjamin Perrin, showed 146 Canadians were charged with child sex offences overseas from 1993-2007, based on requests for consular support. Many more Canadians likely bribed their way out of being charged, reported Perrin, who obtained his data through the Access to Information Act from the Department of Justice.

"This is not a mysterious or unknown social problem," said Butt. "It's a well-known phenomenon that people travel to other countries to misbehave. Talk to the people in so-called receiving countries. They'll tell you who the major sending countries are."

Butt said offences where a sexual predator "infiltrates" humanitarian organizations is "particularly reprehensible" because the imbalance of power creates the conditions for abuse.

"Not only do they want access to children," he said. "They want access to vulnerable children... This field gives them access to areas where those children are. You can groom the child, you can groom the family, you can groom the entire village. It's all about abuse of power, gain trust and credibility... become a parent's best friend."

Butt said the stakes are high for Canada. "We've got to stop the exportation of criminal activity," he said. "It's bad for Canada to be perceived as a source of sexual predators."

Rosalind Prober, founder of Beyond Borders, a Canadian organization dedicated to ending child sex exploitation worldwide, said sex tourism is "ridiculously common" in the least developed nations like Haiti, due to the huge power imbalance between the children, their families and those exploiting them.

"We're dealing with the most powerless people in the world," she said. "Families are desperate to move their children to a better life... These people (the exploiters) can bring a lot of beautiful things for their children and they will do a lot of good (in order) to do evil ... In the mind of the victim they might think this person is my friend they liked me and gave me so much . . . Imagine the rage and guilt they must feel."

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