Harper’s proposed public child-sex registry part of Ottawa’s larger crackdown on predators

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Harper’s proposed public child-sex registry part of Ottawa’s larger crackdown on predators

The Conservative government wants to tighten monitoring of child-sex predators, including the advent of a publicly accessible database of the worst offenders.

Canada already has a national sex-offender registry available for police agencies but Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday that when Parliament resumes next month the government will table a bill that would put high-risk child-sex offenders on a searchable database open to ordinary Canadians.

The new database would be limited to offenders who are already subject to public notification by the provinces and territories.

When Donald Bakker, Canada's first convicted sex tourist, was released last year after serving six years in prison, Vancouver police issued a public warning about him.

Bakker, who had sex with young girls in Cambodia and was also convicted of sexually assaulting three B.C. prostitutes, was released under two dozen parole conditions, CBC News reported.

Last month, Vancouver police issued a public warning after convicted rapist Jerry Dvorak was released after completing his third sentence, advising he was a risk both to teenage girls and adult women.

[ Related: Stephen Harper cracking down on child sex offenders makes sense ]

Other measures proposed in the Conservatives' planned legislation include a requirement that offenders on the existing registry notify authorities when they plan to travel outside Canada — presumably to curb sex tourism — and provisions to make it easier for police and border security officials to track them, the Prime Minister's Office said in a news release.

"Our government is taking strong action to keep our streets and communities safe for families, and above all, for our most vulnerable citizens," Harper, who made the announcement while in the Vancouver area, said in the release.

"We will ensure that Canada’s justice system is on the side of victims, and take further action to protect our own children, as well as those in other countries, from sex offenders."

In its backgrounder on the proposed legislation, the PMO said almost half of all victims of sexual assaults reported to police in Canada in 2011 were children. It's estimated about one million children are exploited for sex each year.

The PMO's release doesn't provide information on how much detail the proposed publicly searchable database, to be run by the RCMP, would contain about offenders. But it appears modest compared with the publicly accessible sex-offender databases found in U.S. states, which include things such as home addresses and vehicle licence-plate numbers.

"In many states, registration covers everyone convicted of a sexual crime, which can range from child rape to consensual teenage sex, and regardless of their potential future threat to children," a report by Human Rights Watch noted in 2007.

"Unfettered public access to online sex-offender registries with no 'need-to-know' restrictions exposes former offenders to the risk that individuals will act on this information in irresponsible and even unlawful ways.

"There is little evidence that this form of community notification prevents sexual violence."

[ Related: Vancouver man faces child sex charges in Cambodia ]

The report urged an end to public online registries and to residency restrictions imposed on convicted sex offenders.

"Residency restrictions banish former offenders from entire towns and cities, forcing them to live far from homes, families, jobs and treatment, and hindering law-enforcement supervision," Human Rights Watch said.

Harper served notice of the government's tougher stance last month, announcing Ottawa would increase penalties for those convicted of sexually exploiting children.

The Globe and Mail reported Ottawa is proposing that offenders convicted of preying on several children would serve their sentences consecutively, similar to changes implemented for those convicted of multiple murders.

Besides consecutive sentences, the proposed changes would include increasing the maximum and minimum penalties for child-sex offences and penalties for those who violate conditions of release, CBC News reported.

Sentencing judges would also have to factor in if an offence was committed while someone was out on parole or statutory release. The spouse of someone accused of a child-porn offence would also be forced to testify in court.