Canada's Sex Offender Registries: Background, Implementation, and Social Policy Considerations

Article excerpt

Abstract: Canada currently has two sex offender registries (SORs): The Ontario Sex Offender Registry (OSOR) established in 2001 and the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) established in 2004. Both SOR databases contain information (e.g., photo, age, address, type of offence, and victim characteristics) of individuals convicted of sex offences (e.g., sexual assault, sexual interference, computer child luring, child pornography). Placement on an SOR in Canada lasts from 10 years to life. This article reviews the background and development of the OSOR and NSOR in Canada. Current issues such as balancing the privacy rights of sex offenders with the interests of the community, as well as existing research on SORs, are discussed. It is noted that although the U.S. SORs and the two Canadian SORs provide information to law enforcement agencies, Canada does not make this information available to the general public whereas the U.S. does. This difference between the two countries may explain the much higher compliance with SOR orders in Canada compared to the U.S. The authors suggest that additional research is needed to more accurately access the effectiveness of the Canadian SORs.

Introduction

In Canada, sex offender registries (SORs) consist of databases that contain information about people convicted of sex offences or charged with a sex offence but subsequently found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD). Registrants include both adults who have committed a designated sexual offence and juveniles who were tried and convicted as an adult (Hudson, 2005). Sex offender registries were initially legislated in only a few states within the U.S., most notably within California during the 1940s, but it was not until the early 1990s that registries started to become more widely utilized throughout the western world.

Although variations exist between registries in different countries and among jurisdictions, there remain some consistent components. An individual may be placed on an SOR if they have been convicted of one or more designated sexual offences. While this is not universal, personal details recorded on SORs typically include a facial photograph, physical descriptors, such as height, weight, hair and eye colour, date of birth, known aliases, offence information and may include their home, work, school and volunteer-work addresses. Registrants typically are required to report to their local police detachment at designated time intervals in order to verify or update their SOR information. Any change in residence or plans for travel requires the registrant to alert authorities of the change within a specified period of time (Cole & Petrunik, 2006; Hudson, 2005).

Some SORs are prospective in nature, that is, only individuals convicted of a sexual offence on or after the date that the relevant legislation was proclaimed may be included on the registry. In contrast, retrospective SORs require offenders to register if they were serving a sentence for a designated offence at the inception of the registry. Finally, retroactive registries may include offenders who had completed their sentence at the time the registry was implemented but are required to register for historical offences. There are fifteen U.S. states that have retroactive registries requiring offenders to register for historical offences (Vander Hart, 2008). Different from these states within the U.S., the legislation for Canada's National SOR (NSOR) and the Ontario SOR (OSOR) allows for retrospective inclusion.

Once registered, depending on the country or jurisdiction, offenders are required to report to the registry for a duration ranging from 5 years to life. The duration of required reporting is generally determined by the type of offence, criminal history and number of victims. Convictions for failure to comply with registry requirements hold penalties that range from large fines to imprisonment (Murphy, Brodsky, Brakel, Petrunik, Fedoroff & Grudzinskas, 2009). …