The case against a former Ottawa aid worker, accused of victimizing several Nepalese boys, is the latest black mark for the international aid community, which has seen several organizations roiled by allegations of workers committing sex crimes against children.
Paul McCarthy, 62, was granted bail Wednesday, on a condition of house arrest, after he was charged last week with multiple child pornography offences and one count of luring a child.
McCarthy was stopped by the Canada Border Services Agency in mid-December as he returned home following a volunteer mission to an orphanage in Nepal.
Authorities said the investigation led to the identification of five alleged victims: all Nepalese boys under the age of 16.
In the 1990s, McCarthy worked for disaster relief organization CARE Canada where he was director for Indonesia between 1992 and 1995.
“The charges against him (McCarthy) do not relate to his past work at CARE, but given the severity of the allegations we are looking into whether there were any potential cases of abuse in those roles. So far we have not found evidence of that,” said CARE Canada spokesperson Shannon Elliot.
“Our research also has shown that in the last decade Mr. McCarthy has twice done short-term contract work for other parts of CARE. While we continue to look into those assignments, the roles have been limited to consulting and meeting facilitation for management and did not bring him into contact with program participants.”
According to McCarthy’s LinkedIn profile, his most recent employment lists him as co-founder of international development firm Eka Dunia, which is described as “providing consulting services to international development agencies on all aspects of project design, monitoring and evaluation, with a special focus on governance, civil society and anti-corruption.”
(The firm was dissolved in 2013, according to its other co-founder.)
The orphanage McCarthy allegedly visited in Nepal was Child Haven International, a Canadian-run charity founded in 1985 by Bonnie and Fred Cappuccino. The Cappuccinos have received the Order of Canada for their work in Nepal.
Bonnie Cappuccino said that while McCarthy is a long-time donor to Child Haven and has visited the organization’s orphanages, most recently in November, he has never officially been affiliated with Child Haven.
On the weekend, Cappuccino said she had reached out to the orphanage in Nepal to check on the approximately 100 children in its care. On Wednesday, she said she would not provide any updated comment about the children as the allegations involving McCarthy are currently before the courts.
“We have no comment. Our children are doing well and if any need counselling we are providing very experienced counsellors,” she said.
None of the allegations against McCarthy has been proven in court.
McCarthy and his wife, Susan McCarthy, each posted $10,000 bonds, and his sister Patrician Moroney posted $5,000 bond, for $25,000 total.
After he was granted bail on Wednesday, his lawyer, Robert Carew, said: “From what I’ve seen there’s a lack of evidence and there’s always two sides to these stories and allegations.”
McCarthy’s case follows the recent high-profile arrest of another Canadian aid worker accused of sexually abusing Nepalese youth.
Peter Dalglish was arrested in Nepal in April. Dalglish, an Order of Canada recipient, was allegedly found by police in the presence of youth at a mountainside home outside Kathmandu. Police say two youths alleged Dalglish sexually abused them. He is being held in Nepal while the investigation continues.
Nepal has been a hotbed for allegations of child exploitation by those either connected to the international aid community or pretending to be a part of it, said Lori Handrahan, who previously worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and authored the book Epidemic: America’s Trade in Child Rape.
In the last year, at least five foreign volunteers, some acting as international aid workers, have been arrested in Nepal on child exploitation charges, she said.
“This has been going on forever and ever,” Handrahan said. “It’s huge. This is a difficult problem. We’ve had these scandals and (aid agencies) have all said, ‘We’re going to do safeguarding better.’ And they’re not. What they’re doing is training and conferences and little papers and public relations, and that’s it.”
In October, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund issued a warning pertaining to orphanages in Nepal. The organization said as many as 85 per cent of the children in Nepalese orphanages aren’t actually orphans, and have at least one living parent. More than 75 per cent of the country’s orphanages are located in high-tourism areas, the organization said. In some cases children are deliberately separated from their families and placed in orphanages so they can be used to attract money from donors.
“Background checks are often not conducted on volunteers. This can increase the risk to children of child sexual exploitation,” UNICEF said on its website.
While the spotlight is on Nepal, the issue is much larger. In February 2018, well-known global anti-poverty charity Oxfam was forced to apologize following allegations that its aid workers had been involved in sexual assaults while deployed to Haiti following a devastating earthquake in 2011. The charity has been banned from returning to Haiti and new legislation has been drafted by the Haitian government to more closely monitor foreign aid workers.
“The behaviour of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation,” the charity said in a statement posted to its website on Feb. 9. “Four members of staff were dismissed as a result of the investigation and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the investigation. Allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.”
Handrahan said the time is right for governments around the world to spark change in the way they deal with international aid agencies. In poorer countries, like Nepal, where technology and knowledge about technology is scarce, the aid agencies should be pumping money into local police forces to better equip them to combat online child exploitation.
Another big problem for these countries, said Handrahan, is the ability to track potential pedophiles entering the country and keeping the border secure. Border officials in Nepal have little access to international criminal databases and very little vetting happens when people actually try to enter the country, she said.
Janakraj Sapkota, a reporter in Kathmandu who has been following the McCarthy case from Nepal, said he’s obtained the Ottawa man’s travel records for the past two years from government sources.
The records, Sapkota said, show three visits to Nepal dating back to March 2017. McCarthy apparently stayed between March and May 2017. He returned in September 2017 and stayed until late December. The record then show him returning three days later for a six-day stay between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, 2018.
Sapkota said, according to his sources, there are no records to indicate that McCarthy entered Nepal late last year, when Bonnie Cappuccino said McCarthy visited the Child Haven International orphanage.
However, Sapkota said, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the country.
“We have an open border to neighbouring country India,” Sapkota said, before adding that movement across the border from India is rarely documented.
According to Handrahan, police in Nepal have limited cyber resources.
“They’re just starting to build a cyber crime unit, she said. “They’ve got nothing. They’ve been monitoring these guys on foot. That’s how they’ve been catching these guys.”
Steve Gilbert, co-founder of the now-dissolved Eka Dunia, said their company didn’t work on any contracts in Nepal.
“Eka Dunia was a general partnership under which Paul McCarthy and I undertook consulting contracts. It had no employees and Paul and I executed contracts largely independently from each other,” Gilbert said. “I did not undertake any contracts in Nepal nor to my knowledge did (McCarthy). The partnership was dissolved 6 years ago.”
As part of his bail release, McCarthy is banned from leaving Canada and had to surrender his passport.
He is also banned from being in parks, playgrounds, schools or any place he would have access to children.
While under house arrest, McCarthy is not allowed to access computers or similar devices and is barred from using the internet.
McCarthy’s lawyer said his client is prepared to abide by the conditions of his release, which he called “standard conditions for these types of charges.”