On the surface British Columbia’s Kenneth Klassen appears to be a pretty average guy. He is a 59 year-old divorced father of three and an international art dealer. But Klassen’s travels were not just for business – which was discovered when customs officers seized a suspicious package from the Philippines that he had sent to himself. It was commercial child pornography.
Some of the DVDs police found had titles such as “First Timer” and “Child Abuse,” and showed him having sex with young impoverished kids between the ages of 8 and 18. He had hired a woman to take a computer course so she could blur out his face from the clips, but these attempts to hide his crimes did not work. Klassen was arrested when he came to pick up the package. When searching his house and a storage locker in Vancouver, the police found 21 DVDs containing more than 200 images of child pornography, with girls as young as three years old, which he had purchased overseas.
Crown Counsel Brendan McCabe said that Klassen “said he was attracted to women that were extremely thin and that he had tried to find thin women, older women, but in Canada he found that impossible.” Klassen also told the police that he targeted his victims because they were extremely thin, cheap, and easily available. As the Montreal Gazette reports, one of his 11 year-old victims agreed to have sex with him so she could buy herself a new set of clothes for her 12th birthday.
His was the third sex tourism case that has been heard in a Canadian court, and yesterday the judge handed him the harshest sentence to date: 11 years. Ten years for having sex with 14 underage girls in Colombia and Cambodia, and one year for for importing child pornography. The first case involved another British Columbia man, Donald Bakker, who was given a 7 year sentence for sexually exploiting young girls in Cambodia. The second case involved two Quebec men who received 2 and 3 year sentences for sexually exploiting boys at an orphanage in Haiti.
Though Klassen claimed to be sorry from the bottom of his heart, he also tried to challenge Canada’s sex tourism law by arguing that the incidents happened in other countries where Canadian courts have no jurisdiction. Hmm. Sounds like a truly “repentant man.”
I asked Brian McConaghy, founder of the Ratanak Foundation (which operates safe houses in Cambodia for rescued victims) what he thinks of the outcome, and he had this to say:
“While this is the longest sentence handed down in a Canadian court we are still short of where we need to be. I want sentences of 18 to 20 years for this. We may get there eventually but it will take time, more public awareness and political will. So we are on the right track but still need more work.”
In other words, this is a bittersweet victory. However it demonstrates that these cases are coming before Canadian courts more regularly, which will hopefully begin to discourage predators from victimizing children abroad. Unfortunately there are numerous sex tourists that are not caught like the four individuals who have now been successfully sentenced in Canada. We are moving slowly, but at least it is in the right direction! For all those involved in this investigation, I applaud you for your hard work.
For more information on the Klassen case, check out the following links:
B.C. man gets 11 years for child sex tourism by CBC News
B.C. Sex tourist gets 11 years for abusing girls by the Montreal Gazette
Sex tourist Kenneth Klassen sentenced to 11 years by the Globe and Mail