Ontario’s sex offender registry has some soul searching to do. Does it exist to punish offenders, or protect communities? And how can the framework for who goes on the list, which the Supreme Court has ruled discriminatory, support this core objective?
The government has one year to amend Christopher’s Law, named for 11-year-old Christopher Stephenson, who in 1988 was tragically abducted, assaulted and murdered by a known pedophile. A coroner’s jury recommended creating an electronic registry of sex offenders to help police target their neighbourhood searches during the critical hours after a child goes missing.
The legislation received all-party support when tabled by the Harris government in 1999. Members touted the wide net cast by the proposed registry — the first of its kind in Canada — avowing: “Even those offenders who have received absolute or conditional discharges would have to register, with no exceptions.”
That tough talk eventually gave way to reasonable “exit ramps,” providing avenues to stay off the registry if an absolute discharge is given, or to be removed if a record suspension or pardon is granted. That makes sense if the registry’s goal is protection. If it’s not in the public interest for an individual to have a criminal record, how would their presence on a registry help investigators solve any crimes?
The ruling doesn’t mean every NCR offender should be left off the registry; there’s no evidence suggesting that would serve public safety. But there’s equally no evidence they automatically belong on the registry, perhaps for life, with no consideration of their actual risk of reoffending.
As legislators take another pass at these “exit ramps,” they should think about another group whose presence on the sex offender registry is of questionable value to community safety.
In Canada, people can still be prosecuted for having sex without disclosing they are HIV positive,