Dozens of child sex dolls seized by Canadian border agents

Canadian border officers have intercepted dozens of sex dolls with child-like size and features, an emerging pattern child welfare advocates fear could fuel more exploitation of real children.

Officials intercepted at least 42 lifelike dolls in less than 2 years

Border officers have seized at least 42 child sex dolls in less than two years. (CBC)

Canadian border officers have seized dozens of sex dolls with child-like dimensions and features — an emerging trend child welfare advocates fear could fuel exploitation of real children.

Records obtained by CBC News under access to information law show the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) intercepted at least 42 child-like dolls designed explicitly for sex between January 2016 and August 2018, seizing them as illegal child pornography.

Border officers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton and Quebec have come across dozens of these child dolls and reproductions of child-like body parts, such as chests and pelvic areas. Of those documented seizures, 30 took place in Quebec.

Officials estimate the dolls they seized can range in value from $50 each to nearly $8,000.

In some places in the documents obtained by CBC News, border officers provide detailed descriptions of the dolls to explain why they're being classified as child pornography. According to the documents, the silicone dolls resembled pre-pubescent girls under the age of 18 because they were small in stature and had underdeveloped breasts.

Some of the dolls seized, according to the documents, have interchangeable heads, heating elements and clothing. Some come with Hello Kitty hairclips, brushes and blankets.

Dolls coming from China, Japan

China and Japan are the primary sources for the dolls cited in the documents.

CBSA could not provide any more details on the number or types of seizures. The agency said that, in general, the sex dolls its officers are seeing at the border now are built to be more life-like than past models.

The agency said it has not noted an increase in the number of child sex dolls being smuggled into Canada. The agency would not provide a photo of the seized items, or allow CBC to take a photo of them.

"The interdiction of child pornography is something the CBSA takes very seriously," spokesperson Nicholas Dorion wrote in an email. "The agency works closely with its domestic and international law enforcement partners to ensure the safety and security of Canadians."

Dorion would not specify how the illicit dolls are being detected by border officers, but said CBSA officers have legal authority to examine personal baggage, conveyances and goods carried by people arriving in and leaving Canada. Officers are "vigilant and trained" in detecting prohibited goods, he added.

Child pornography laws

The seized dolls are turned over to the RCMP or another police force for investigation, according to the CBSA.

Under Canada's Criminal Code, the definition of child pornography covers any material or items that depict or describe, for sexual purposes, a person under 18 years old.

Child sex dolls are legal in the United States, although there is a push to ban the sale, distribution and importation of sex dolls and robots designed to look like children. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that would ban the importation of such devices.

An operation in the U.K. launched by the National Crime Agency, called Operation Sting, netted more than 100 child sex dolls. That prompted the British children's commissioner to publicly rebuke Amazon for facilitating the sale of these dolls.

Monique St. Germain, a lawyer for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said acting out a sexual fantasy on a realistic doll has a "disinhibiting effect" that could lead someone to prey on a real child.

"Giving somebody something that would help satiate a need can go one of two ways. You could say, 'Well, it's possible that might inhibit the person from offending against a real child.' Okay, I'll allow for that possibility," she said.

"However, I think it's far more likely that it's going to incite somebody to actually go after a child once they've had that experience."

St. Germain said there are profound ethical issues around child sex dolls.

"If we are reinforcing rape fantasies through the use of a doll which cannot consent, what are we really sending as a message to people about what's okay and what's not okay?"

'Victimless' material?

Clinical psychologist and sexual therapist James Cantor said there is no evidence to show that using "victimless" material like cartoons or dolls leads to real harm against children. 

Some people fear that we may be condoning or causing pedophilia if we don't condemn the behaviour, he said, but there is no solid scientific evidence to show child sex dolls lead to acts against children. He said there have been no studies of people who use child sex dolls, tracking their long term behaviour, but there are other clinical indicators of who is likely to "act out." 

"Until there is a demonstration of harm, 'ickiness' just doesn't raise to the level of limiting somebody's free sexual expression," he said.

This box, which is at the centre of a trial in St. John's, contains an unassembled child sex doll. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

It's not clear how many of these seizures have led to criminal charges, but to date there has been only one known prosecution in Canada involving a child sex doll.

Kenneth Harrisson of St. John's is facing trial on charges of possessing child pornography and mailing obscene material, and charges under the federal Customs Act of smuggling and possessing prohibited goods.

Adult sex dolls are increasing in popularity and sophistication of design.

The first-ever sex doll brothel was set to open in Toronto this year, but it was shut down due to city bylaws.