Out In The Open

What it's like being a registered sex offender in Canada: 'For me it's a sickness'

‘Louis’ sexually abused four children. Now, he’s trying to make sure he never does it again.
Canada's sex offender registry isn't available to the public, but police can access it while investigating other crimes. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sue Bailey)

When Louis's daughter was a teenager, she started remembering things about her early childhood. Specifically, she had flashes of being sexually abused by a relative.

"And I realized at that time it would come out, what had happened with me and her," Louis said.

In total, Louis's been to jail twice for sexual abuses of four children. Including his daughter.

After that other relative was charged, Louis says he came forward to police on his own. He wanted to receive his punishment, while ensuring that there was no confusion about the role of that other relative.

"As a father, you're supposed to protect your children," he told Piya in an interview.

"But you abused your child," she said.

"That's where I struggle."

"You realize how screwed up that is, right?" Piya asked him.

"Oh, definitely," he said. "Sick. It's as sick as you can be. I know."

For the sake of his family's privacy, we agreed to shield Louis's real name.

After going to jail for two years less a day in the provincial system in the late 1990s, Louis tried to put his life back together. Eventually, his family took him back. He and his daughter still have a relationship today.

"It wasn't an overnight thing," he said. "We went through about three years. I'm very glad that my wife asked me to stay around. … It's amazing. I'm not a religious person, but if there is a higher power up there, somebody did a good thing for me."

But it didn't end there. In 2011, Louis's wife died. 

"Again, I don't want to minimize what I've done. But I needed a way to escape the pain of my loss, and I went back to that perverted way of dealing with things."

He abused two boys. They were friends of the family. He went back to jail for another two years. 

Again, I don't want to minimize what I've done. But I needed a way to escape the pain of my loss, and I went back to that perverted way of dealing with things.- Louis

Louis has struggled with alcohol and narcotics addictions in his life. Now, after having received therapy, he sees those abuses in a similar light.

"It's like an alcoholic looking at the bottle. He had the taste one time, and he knows it makes him feel good at that particular time to have it. I'm sorry to say it bluntly like that, but that's how I can explain it."

Canada's sex offender registry isn't available to the public. But it is available to police when they investigate other assault cases. 

Section 161 of Canada's Criminal Code recommends a series of restrictions on sex offenders like Louis. They can't attend public spaces where children are likely present – such as schools, parks, swimming pools, playgrounds and daycares. They can't work or volunteer with children. They can't have contact with children without court-endorsed supervision, and they might be restricted from using the internet. 

(Canadians have a legal duty to report child abuse if they're aware of it.)

Louis isn't opposed to the restrictions. He feels he deserves the punishments he's received. "For me, it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel accountable."

But he has grandkids now. And he'd like the chance to be a good grandfather.

"But how do you do that, and how do you tell a seven year old? I have a seven year old who asked me the other day, 'Why don't you come to my soccer game?'"

He's talked that question over with his daughter and his therapist. And he's thought of a possible response.

"Grandpa did some really bad things. And you know when you do a bad thing at school, and you get a time out, punishment, consequences? Well grandpa has consequences.

"Grandpa cannot go to those practices or games or events, not because he doesn't love you, not because he doesn't want to go. It's because people around you want to make sure that you are safe."

It's difficult for Louis. But in speaking to Piya, he explains his difficulty in expressing his feelings about it.

"As my background, I was never able to share feelings, because every time I shared feelings, I would be sexually abused myself. I don't want to minimize, but all the men in my life growing up, showing feeling, they used that against me. 

"So, I don't want to hurt anybody else. I don't want to have any more victims. I was a victim, I had victims, and it has to stop there."