INDEPTH: MISSING CHILDREN|
Sex offender registry
CBC News Online | December 15, 2004
A parent's worst nightmare became reality for Jim and Anna Stephenson in 1988 when their 11-year-old son Christopher was murdered. To make the tragedy worse, they were convinced it could have been prevented. Christopher was grabbed at a shopping mall, sexually assaulted and killed by Joseph Fredericks, a convicted child sex offender who was released on mandatory supervision.
In 1993, the coroner's inquest into the death of the Brampton, Ont., boy recommended creating a national registry for convicted sex offenders, one that would require them to register with local police.
Eleven-year-old Christopher Stephenson was murdered in 1988 by a known sex offender
A province-wide registry took effect in Ontario on April 23, 2001. It was the first in the country. The legislation that created the registry was named "Christopher's Law."
What is it?
The sex offender registry is an investigative tool for police. If a sex crime is committed, police can use the registry to quickly identify known pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders living in the area.
"It's important when there is an offence committed in the community, especially one involving a child, that police be able to find out very quickly what kind of sex offenders live in that area," Steve Sullivan, president of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims, told CBC News. "It can often mean the difference between life and death for a child."
Ontario's registry forces sex offenders to register with local police within 15 days of being released from jail. Offenders provide their name, birthday, aliases, address, physical description and identifying marks, such as tattoos and scars. They must re-register every year, as well as every time they move or change jobs. Failure to do so could mean a fine up to $25,000 and more jail time.
A national sex offender registry
A key problem with Ontario's registry is that police can't keep track of people who move to other provinces, where they don't have to register as a sex offender.
"When people who are on the registry in Ontario move to Saskatchewan or wherever, they're not registered again," said Conservative MP Randy White. "So they can escape the registry just by leaving Ontario. Unless you have a national registry with guidelines, it's not going to work as well."
In March 2001, then-federal Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay said there was no need for a national sex offender registry because the computer system police used to track criminals was sufficient.
Police disagreed, saying the system could be improved because it didn't track the addresses of sexual offenders. They said the system used in the United States allows speedier access to information by forcing offenders to register.
Alberta made noise about setting up its own registry as well, but opted instead to list information about some high-risk offenders on a government website that any member of the public can read.
Other provinces considered their own databases. In April 2001, British Columbia approved legislation to set up a registry. Saskatchewan, however, said it would wait for the federal government to act before it made a decision on the matter.
Meanwhile, Ontario continued to put pressure on the federal government. Ontario's former premier, Mike Harris, said his province would help other provinces set up a registry by sharing its software and by offering them legal advice. Harris also said that if the federal government didn't set up and pay for a national sex offender registry, the government of Ontario would.
On February 14, 2002, Ottawa changed its stand and agreed to set up a national sex offender registry. In December of that year, Ottawa introduced legislation to create the registry. The law was given royal assent on April 1, 2004 and the registry came into effect on December 15, 2004.
Unlike Ontario's registry, the national registry won't be retroactive. In other words, people convicted for sex crimes before the law came into effect won't be included - not those in jail, not those already released.
Offenders will be added as court officials from the provinces determine who should be on the list from among the population of prisoners being released or finishing conditional sentences in the community.
The information will be available to police forces nationwide through the Canadian Police Information Centre database, and will include fingerprints and physical descriptions, as well as photographs, in some cases.
In cases where officials believe the community is at risk from a certain person, individual police forces can decide to issue a public warning.
Not everyone is a fan of the sex offender registry.
A report by Alberta's John Howard Society points out that long-term studies of sex offenders, particularly child molesters, indicates that they are 25 per cent less likely to re-offend than other types of convicted criminals.
"The creation of something like this will have the impact of perhaps creating a false sense of security," Brian Saunders, head of the John Howard Society in New Brunswick, told CBC News. Saunders said government programs to help sex offenders find jobs and get treatment and community support would be a better way to enhance public safety.
Former Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy agreed.
"Knowing the whereabouts of a sex offender will not be enough to protect our children fully," he said when Saskatchewan decided not to create its own registry. Axworthy also cited charter concerns: a registry may violate the privacy rights of people who have completed their sentences.
When the government of Ontario implemented its registry, it dismissed concerns about privacy, saying the rights of children, women and other law-abiding citizens outweigh any impact on pedophiles and rapists.
Other groups have criticized the registry, saying it works against sex offenders who are trying to reintegrate into society.
A registry isn't the only way provinces are fighting sex crimes.
Manitoba followed Alberta's example and posted pictures and details about sex offenders on the web, in hopes of helping people protect themselves.
In British Columbia, a team of police officers tried monitoring offenders who had been released into the public. For 20 days the police kept close watch on 12 high-risk sex offenders to see if they stayed away from children, playgrounds and schools as promised. The police were shocked with what they found.
One man used his girlfriend to lure a child to a hotel. Two others were volunteering at a church-run daycare. Seven of the 12 offenders were re-arrested on a number of charges.
A rapid response during an investigation of a child abduction for a sex crime is critical. According to the government of Ontario, of those victims who were murdered:|
44 per cent were dead within one hour after the abduction
74 per cent within three hours
91 per cent within 24 hours