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Sex offender in Brampton under 'toughest' available restrictions, public safety minister says

Canada's public safety minister is offering reassurances to a community pushing back against the release of a sex offender convicted of crimes against young children.

Mayor Patrick Brown has said residents are 'livid' over decision to move Madilyn Harks to their city

Peel Regional Police arrest Madilyn Harks, formerly known as Matthew Harks. The 36-year-old has multiple convictions for assaulting young girls. (Peel Regional Police)

Canada's public safety minister offered reassurances Monday to a community protesting the arrival of a convicted sex offender in their midst, even as Brampton's mayor escalated efforts to have the move reversed.

Ralph Goodale's office said Madilyn Harks — who was previously known as Matthew Harks and convicted of sexual offences against young children — is facing some of the stiffest supervisory measures available for released offenders.

Local police issued a warning late last week about Harks's arrival at a halfway house in Brampton, Ont., noting that the risk she poses to the public must be balanced with her right to integrate into society.

That wasn't good enough for Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who wrote first to Goodale protesting Harks's presence, then appealed to two provincial ministers to help him in his quest to get Harks sent elsewhere. Some community members also took to social media to support the mayor and speak out against Harks's arrival.

'Toughest measure available'

A spokesman for Goodale's office said the minister does not have the authority to relocate Harks, whose prison sentence ended in 2010 and who has been living in the community elsewhere in Canada without reoffending since.

"The government cannot simply put someone who has served their sentence back in jail, no matter how reprehensible their crime," Scott Bardsley said in a statement. "To deal with the most difficult cases, the courts, correctional workers, police and community partners put in place and enforce strict measures to ensure the safety of the public."

In Harks's case, Bardsley said those measures included restrictions imposed by the court, the parole board and her halfway house. They also include a long-term supervision order, which Bardsley described as the "the toughest measure available to prevent high risk cases from re-offending."

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown previously said residents are 'livid' over a decision by the federal government to move Madilyn Harks to their city. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Bardsley said Harks was briefly reincarcerated in 2016 for breaching the conditions of that order, noting that stint behind bars was "proof the system works." He said 99 per cent of people under long-term supervision orders do not reoffend within six months.

Neither Goodale nor the local police force would specify exactly where Harks was living prior to arriving in the city, nor when she took up residence at a halfway house in Brampton.

The community became aware of her presence when Peel regional police and school board officials issued warnings about her.

'Completely unacceptable'

Police described Harks, 36, as at an "elevated" risk to reoffend. They said she had previously been convicted of three sexual offences involving girls under the age of eight.

The warning prompted Brown to write Goodale over the weekend, decrying her presence in the community as "completely unacceptable."

He went into more detail Monday in a subsequent letter to Ontario Corrections Minister Sylvia Jones and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, in which he asked for their support.

"I am asking for your immediate assistance in our community's desire to reverse the decision by Correctional Service Canada to 'dump' Madilyn Harks (formerly Matthew Harks) in downtown Brampton," he wrote. "The fact that Ms. Harks is in a halfway house instead of jail is a clear example that our justice system is broken."

Neither Mulroney nor Jones immediately responded to request for comment.

Several community members applauded Brown online for his efforts.

"Someone like this should not be in our city," one person wrote on Twitter. "I can't imagine what parents of young kids must be feeling right now."

Another person thanked Brown for "genuinely caring about the vulnerable innocent children."

Sex offenders have fundamental rights, police say

Peel police Const. Akhil Mooken said that regardless of community sentiment, sex offenders have fundamental rights that must be respected no matter where they live.

"Although Madilyn Harks does present an elevated risk to reoffend, she does remain a citizen of Canada and her rights are guaranteed," he said. "We as a police service must act to protect those rights if they are infringed upon."