Child sex tourist [in Cambodia] was a 'customer' (sic!), defence argues

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kenneth Klassen tries to hide his face as he arrives at B.C. Supreme Court for the second day of a sentencing hearing related to child-sex tourism in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, July 23, 2010. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Friday Jul. 23, 2010
The Canadian Press

A Canadian man who admitted having sex with young girls in Colombia and Cambodia was a "customer" of willing participants and not an abuser, says his defence lawyer.

Kenneth Klassen pleaded guilty earlier this year to 14 counts of having sex with underage girls and one count of importing child pornography.

At his sentencing hearing Friday, the 59-year-old Burnaby man's lawyers said the crimes were "consensual" and his prison time should reflect that.

Lawyer Len Doust suggested a five- to six-year term. Prosecutor Brendan McCabe previously asked the court for a 12-year term.

"It would be an error in principle ... to find that (Klassen) is somehow deserving of a more severe sentence because of what is characterized as the abject poverty in some other country or the failure of some other location to provide for its citizens," his other lawyer, Ian Donaldson, told a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

It was wrong for Klassen to have sex with girls the Crown says were as young as eight, Donaldson said, but that shouldn't be a factor in his "moral blame-worthiness."

"If (the girls) had ever said 'No,' he would have stopped," Donaldson said.

Court has heard witness statements from several children saying they were given gifts and cash to buy things like new clothes or soap for their family.

McCabe said Friday that while he can't prove the girls were not sex workers, he believes they were just "inexperienced" children. Video footage shown only to the judge make it "abundantly clear" some of the girls were much younger than age 14, he said.

Klassen's lawyers said he concedes the girls were under age 14, but not that they were as young as eight.

Donaldson told the judge his client will get a "substantial sentence ... no doubt," but he shouldn't get a longer sentence because of the aggravating factors raised by the Crown.

In asking for a more lenient sentence, he said Klassen is willing to attend all rehabilitation programs offered in prison and had no prior criminal record. Klassen hasn't offended in the nearly six years he's been in Canada on bail, either, Donaldson said.

Doust said the offences didn't occur in Canada but in a country where Klassen lived for two decades -- Columbia -- and where sex laws aren't as rigorously enforced, making the acts "quasi-acceptable" in his mind.

"By entering the plea of guilty, this man has publicly acknowledged that he did what he's accused of doing, that he's responsible for it, that he understands and he accepts that his conduct was criminal and that it was morally wrong," Doust said.

And while Donaldson raised no issue with Klassen providing a mandatory DNA sample or having a weapons prohibition, he asked the judge not to impose a lifetime ban on him attending playgrounds or community centres. Donaldson said Klassen has children himself and may eventually have grandchildren.

"He sees what he did was wrong, he sees how to avoid doing that," Donaldson said.

Klassen was arrested in 2004 after he was caught trying to ship homemade DVDs back to Canada with images showing him having sex with prepubescent girls.

The father of three pleaded guilty to the 15 charges in May after a failed constitutional challenge to Canada's child-sex tourism law.

A judge is expected to sentence Klassen on Wednesday.


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