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Canada's new sex offender registry has two glaring flaws Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 05 April 2004

Next time you drop your kids at the local playground, ponder this statistic. There are probably more than 40,000 previously-convicted sex offenders in our video arcades, streets and parkades.

In Canada, a released rapist, molester or flasher is just the guy across the hall, the popular parent-volunteer at your kid's school, your daughter's fiance or your wife's supervisor at work. You aren't allowed to know about his past.

You should be. The government spends a lot of your money finding out who these people are. In fact, 25% of our federal prison population consists of sex offenders.

Sex crime is in a class of its own. It often maims a child or woman for life. They never trust again.

And don't think you can spot sex offenders a mile off. They are the best liars in the world. As one of them put it in a soon-to-be-published manuscript I read recently, "We lie so well to others because we've spent our whole lives lying to ourselves." And they are notoriously prone to reoffence.

Well, last Thursday Bill C-16 (formerly C-23), the Sex Offender Registration Act, cleared the Senate, and Canada will soon have a national sex offender registry.

Unfortunately, it's badly designed. The Liberals have been so ornery for the last 11 years about creating a sex offender registry of any sort, they seem to have set it up to fail.

To be effective, our Canadian registry should be like the registries in all 50 U.S. states--publicly accessible and with almost no exemptions. If you are convicted of a sex crime, for the rest of your life you should have to report to the local police once a year, or whenever you change your address or your name.

Any citizen should be able go to a police station and find out if your name is on the database. There he or she should find a recent picture, and all the relevant information about your past.

Or a citizen should be able to ask for all the sex offenders in his or her postal code by face and name so he or she knows who to watch out for. In urban California there can be about 50 previous offenders resident in a zip-code area. In one inner-city zip code, there are 390.

The problem with Ottawa's proposed registry is that only police will see it, and there will be so many exemptions and avenues of appeal that most of the known sex offenders (past, present and future) won't be in it.

Canadian legal experts and legislators (especially Liberal ones) fear that the mean-minded public will use the registry to chase sex offenders from the neighborhood. Even without a registry, there have been several Canadian instances of this.

But with free public access this hardly ever happens.

In California, for example, the registry has been public for nine years, contains 75,000 names, and gets checked 40,000 times a year. Yet there have been only two minor incidents of neighborhood harassment.

What people want is the right to avoid sex offenders and keep an eye on them, not burn them out.

And if the offenders don't like it, tough. Any right they want to privacy is outweighed by the right of others to protect themselves.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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