Ontario Solicitor-General David Turnbull Wednesday met with his Alberta counterpart, Heather Forsyth, to formally announce an agreement whereby Ontario will share its technology free of charge. Ontario police have been using an online sex offender registry since April 23, 2001. A joint venture between the Ontario Integrated Justice agency and the Police Services of Ontario, the database is the result of legislation passed by the Ontario government, informally called Christopher’s Law, in 2000. The name refers to the abduction, sexual assault and murder of an 11-year-old boy in the Brampton area. An inquest into the boy’s death recommended that the Canadian government create a national sex offender registry, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Steve Smethurst, Detective Sergeant with the Ontario Sex Offender Registry, said Ontario has also been in talks with British Columbia about extending the system’s reach. Through the partnership, Alberta will gain not only the registry’s database technology but data on all the 3,000 convicted sexual offenders which have been entered so far.
“”Offenders are very transient and are moving back and forth,”” Smethurst said. “”To have one common system that will link all provinces together is the ideal situation.””
Alberta Solicitor-General Communications branch spokeswoman Jean Olynyk said the province had not set out any clear timelines on when the technology might be implemented. “”Right now we want to take a look at the software, see how long it would take to train our people and how compatible it is with our existing system,”” she said.
Christopher’s Law requires Canadian convicted sex offenders to register with their local police service if they take up residency in Ontario. To date, the Ontario police have achieved a 90 per cent compliance rate, Smethurst said. Registry information includes name, address, date of birth, description and a photograph of the offender. This information must be updated in person each time the offender moves or leaves the province on an annual basis.
The search capabilities of the registry, which works as a browser-based intranet, allow a number of query options, even down to the modus operandi, or MO, of the offender. If an offender was convicted of a sexual assault in which he fondled the breast of the victim, for example, a word search would bring up anyone with a similar MO.
It also allows geocoding — technology that assigns a latitude and longitude for an offender’s address. This allows the police to search from a crime scene, for instance, for offenders that live in close proximity to the crime being investigated.
“”Provinces all across the country have been screaming for a national registry,”” Smethurst said, but Ontario has decided to work directly with the provinces rather than wait for a federally backed program. A national database, he added, would be backed up by legislation that mandates offenders to register, with repercussions if they don’t. “”That seems to be the stumbling block right now. The federal government has agreed to make some enhancements to the current Canadian Police Information System, but the enhancements they’re calling for have limited investigative value.””
Danielle Abry, director of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, called the database a step in the right direction, but she said there was possibly even more important work to be done in making the justice system easier for children and adults who have been sexually assaulted.
“”A registry is a priority in that it brings attention to the issue and also tracks people that have been through the court system,”” she said. “”It is nice to have something after the fact, but I think we have to look proactively at how we can improve (the way) people (are) being charged.””
The Web-based program can be accessed by every police service in the province, and queries can be done at the local level. Though it is available to all law enforcement personnel, each local service determines who has access. “”Every place is slightly different, depending on what works for them,”” he said. “”In some cases if they’ve got a fully committed sexual assault investigation unit, those members are likely to be the ones who have complete access to the registry.””
Smethurst said offenders remain in the registry for 10 years if they have been convicted for a single offence that carried a maximum penalty of 10 years or less.