Monday, 3 October 2011

Sex offender registries should never be made public

In partnership with the provinces and territories, the Government of Canada created a National Sex Offender Registry to provide rapid access by police to current vital information about convicted sex offenders. The Sex Offender Information Registration Act was proclaimed as law and came into force on December 15, 2004.

The National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR)enhances public safety by assisting in the investigation of crimes of a sexual nature and identifying possible suspects known to reside near to the offence site. An officer is able to request a search for registered sex offenders living in the area where a sex crime was committed.

Depending on jurisdiction, police agencies may access the NSOR database directly or through their provincial or territorial registration Sex Offender Registry Centre. Information such as addresses and telephone numbers, offence, aliases, identifying marks and tattoos of convicted sex offenders are included in the national database.

There are penalties (e.g. fines, imprisonment) for offenders who fail to comply with a registration order or for not giving truthful information.

If a person wishes to work with children either professionally or as a volunteer, he or she must provide the potential employer with a form signed by the local police that he or she is not a convicted sex offender.

Following conviction and sentencing for one of the designated offences listed in the Criminal Code, the Crown can apply to the court for a Sex Offender Registration Order. The Crown can apply for registration orders not only for sexual offence convictions, but also for other offences if they were done with the intent to commit one of the designated 'sexual' offences.

Individuals convicted of a sexual offence prior to the coming into force of the registry are also subject for an order to be registered as long as they were either under active sentence as of December 15, 2004, or they were included on the Ontario provincial sex offender registry as of that date.


Once a court has ordered registration, notice is provided to the offender requiring registration in person at a designated police agency (registration centre) within 15 days after the order is made or release from custody. The registration period begins on the day the order is made and re-registration is required once per year and within 15 days of a change of personal information, such as their name or address. If the offender is absent from his home address for more than 15 continuous days, the registration centre must be notified.

Terms of registration

Sex offenders are required to remain registered for one of three periods; these periods are geared to the maximum penalty available for the offence of which they were convicted:

• 10 years for summary conviction offences and offences with two and five year maximums

• 20 years for offences carrying a 10 or 14 year maximum sentence

• Lifetime for offences with a maximum life sentence or when there is a prior conviction for a sex offence

After 20 years and (if necessary) every five years thereafter, offenders registered for life will be able to apply for a judicial review to determine the requirement to register for the remainder of the registration period;

Offenders registered for 10 or 20 years will be able to apply for a judicial review at the five or 10-year mark respectively to determine if their registration requirement should be removed based on the same test as for lifetime registrants.

The public does not have access to the National Sex Offender Registry. It is a database that provides Canadian police services with important information that will improve their ability to investigate crimes of a sexual nature and to confirm that a potential professional or volunteer who wishes to work with children is or is not registered with the National Sex Offender Registry.

The Ontario Sex Offender Registry is a provincial registration system for sex offenders who have been released into the community. These offenders must report to police every year. During the registration process, police enter information about these individuals into a database. The public does not have access to the Ontario Sex Offender Registry either.

At the time of this writing, Tim Hudak who is the leader of the Ontario Progressive Party has sent a circular to the homes of Ontario citizens in which he has said,

“…..the Ontario PC Party will put Ontario’s sex offender registry online for all to see.” unquote

Let me say right from the start that that is an extremely foolish idea. Tim Hudak is the sort of politician who searches for the inchoate fears and hatreds that lie, unspoken, just below the surface of consciousness. When he finds them, he drags them up and waves them for all to see, hoping that ugly emotions will serve his political purposes. He is what an earlier generation would have called a “rabble rouser.” And so it was inevitable that Hudak would turn his attention to sex offenders residing in Ontario.

There are currently more than 14,000 registered sex offenders living in Ontario, but there’s no way for families to know if any of them live in their neighbourhood, near their child’s school, or next to the park where they play,” reads a press release from the Progressive Conservative campaign. Solution: a website where anyone can find any sex offender’s current address. Tim Hudak “will protect hard working families and children against those who would harm us.”

Actually, he will do no such thing. What he will do — if this and his other sleazy gambits get him elected — is further inflate an already exaggerated fear. He may also put more people in danger. But he will not protect hard-working families and children.

American experience shows the information in registries is routinely missing or inaccurate. Even if it weren’t, it’s irrelevant to most child abusers since family and friends are the culprits in most cases, and the kids are only too familiar with their addresses.

American experience also shows — to no one’s surprise, surely — that making convicted sex offenders’ addresses publicly available makes it very hard for sex offenders to reintegrate and live a law-abiding life. Combined with restrictions on where they can live, and what work they can do, searchable sex offender registries are an excellent way to ensure sex offenders remain unemployed, homeless, and subsequently likely to commit new crimes since they have nothing but their freedom to lose.

Searchable registries are also an open invitation to vigilantes. In the U.S, there has been harassment which has included threats and beatings and even murders. In one notorious case, a Nova Scotia man got the names, photos, and addresses of 32 registered sex offenders from the state of Maine’s website. He then drove to Maine and murdered two of the men listed on Maine’s website before he was cornered by the police and committed suicide. The state then realized the fallacy of making such a website public and took the website down.

In the US, it is illegal to use information from the sex offender databases to commit a crime or harass an offender or his family. In California if that crime is a misdemeanour, fines are $10,000 to $50,000 and if a felony, a five-year prison term is added to any other punishment. Such harsh penalties and efficient enforcement mean that vigilantism is rare. But vigilantism against known sex offenders isn’t entirely eradicated by those laws.

Much of the concern over sex offenders stems from the perception that if they have committed one sex offense, they are almost certain to commit more. This is the reason given for why sex offenders (instead of, say, murderers or armed robbers) should be monitored and separated from the public once released from prison.

Hudak says that if he is elected as the premier of Ontario, he will order his government to secure GPS tracking devices on the ankles of registered sex offenders.

Now imagine if you will a sex offender who is still registered although he hasn’t committed another crime since the one that got him registered in the first place ten years ago. He is no longer under a court order not to swim at a public beach. Will he swim at a public beach wearing that GPS ankle bracelet? Will he even swim in his own swimming pool during a party in which his friends are attending? Will he participate in gymnastics? How will he feel when he is being prepped for surgery?

The high recidivism rate among sex offenders is repeated so often that it is usually accepted as truth, but in fact, recent studies show that the recidivism rates for sex offenses is not unusually high. Armed robbers have high recidivate rates. That being so, perhaps we should place a GPS tracking device around their ankles.

In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to re-offend than other criminals. The 2003 study of nearly 10,000 men convicted of rape, sexual assault, and child molestation found that sex offenders had a re-arrest rate 25 percent lower than for all other criminals. Part of the reason is that serial sex offenders—those who pose the greatest threat—rarely get released from prison, and the ones who do are unlikely to re-offend.

If sex offenders are no more likely to re-offend than murderers or armed robbers, there seems little justification for the public's fear, or for the monitoring laws tracking them or making their names and addresses public.

Tim Hudak is the kind of politician who will scream that the sky is falling if it will scare the voting population into believing that if he is elected, the public will no longer be at risk.

An honest politician (now there is a contravention of words) would concentrate on more important issues such an unemployment, health care, waiting times in hospitals, tax reform etc. Not once did he say anything in his letter to the public about such issues. And why should he? Isn’t the sky falling down? Isn’t he going to save the citizens of Ontario if he his elected from the disaster he is forecasting with the solution he so foolishly has suggested?

I will do an update on this article after the October 6th election and tell you if this political hack really scared the citizens of Ontario into electing him as the province’s premier.

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