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Sex-offender registry too late, critics say

A decade ago, a coroner's jury in Brampton probed the murder of an 11-year-old boy stabbed three times in the side of the neck by a paroled sex offender. The five men and women urged Ottawa not to let Christopher Stephenson's death be in vain.

They asked the solicitor-general to "establish a registry for convicted, dangerous, high-risk sexual offenders."

It "could greatly assist the investigation and apprehension of sexual offenders," the jury wrote.

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Holly Jones was a baby when that recommendation was made. Toronto Police now searching for the killer who dismembered the 10-year-old are asking why a national sex-offender registry has yet to grow out of its infancy.

Opposition MPs are asking the same question.

"This government has failed to address a very crucial issue," Canadian Alliance justice critic Vic Toews said yesterday.

And although the Sex Offenders Registration Information Act is expected to become federal law next month, he doesn't think it will accomplish much.

"They have delayed this," Mr. Toews said. " . . . the bill they brought forward does absolutely nothing to protect children or in fact to notify the public that there's a dangerous offender living in the community."

The federal government introduced the new measure last December after years of saying a new law to build a registry was unnecessary. But now, "we see the national sex-offender registry as a very important piece of legislation," Solicitor-General Wayne Easter said.

The law may be passed as early as next month, but even then it will take awhile to get the registry up and running.

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Canada lags behind many parts of the world in terms of keeping such a registry and making it available to the public. In some U.S. states, such as Texas, there is public access through the Internet where people can search for offenders by zip code -- but in Canada, where privacy concerns run higher, only police can access such information.

Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino, who has been lobbying Ottawa for a registry since 1997, said yesterday police have often been discounted as an "interest group" by federal politicians. By the late 1990s the Canadian Alliance was pushing for a registry, and many provinces began thinking about creating their own registries.

Ontario passed Christopher's Law in 2000, and a year later became the first -- and only -- province to establish a registry. Now 5,700 people are in the registry. They are limited to sex offenders convicted since the bill was first enforced -- to dredge up historical offenders would likely constitute a Charter violation -- and the people in the registry must update the government with address changes and current photos. Police, who can do geographic searches of registered sex offenders, are now using it in the Holly Jones case.

Last year, Ottawa and the provinces agreed to federal legislation, and the bill was introduced in December. It will run much like the Ontario database.

Ten years later

Events leading toward a national registry:

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A coroner's jury investigating the slaying of 11-year-old Christopher Stephenson urge Ottawa to set up a national sex-offenders registry.


Canada's police chiefs join in motion asking Ottawa to create a registry. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association expresses worry about the plan.


Ontario grows impatient and announces plans to start its own registry.


As Ontario's registry gets up and running, and other provinces signal they may follow suit, Ottawa begins to warm up to the idea.


Ottawa introduces legislation to create a national sex-offender registry.


10-year-old Holly Jones is slain; police using the Ontario database ask why the national registry has yet to be created.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More


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