It's a fact that publishing personal information online is always abused and vigilantism is a major problem with the online sex offender list, but the media continues to ignore it!
By Dan Dakin
ST. CATHARINES - “It’s not the people on the registry that worry me, it’s the ones we haven’t caught yet,” said Det. Const. Stephen Canton.
That’s his answer to comments from people who say the locations of registered sex offenders in Niagara should be made public.
For the past eight years, Canton has been the man behind the Niagara Regional Police sex offender registry.
There are currently 290 people on the list. Their names, addresses and crimes all remain confidential.
Is there a sex offender living in your subdivision?
Canton said the answer is most likely yes.
“I get calls with people asking, ‘Is there a sex offender in my neighbourhood?’ I tell them, ‘They’re in every neighbourhood,’” Canton said.
One of the reasons the list isn’t public is to curtail vigilante justice. But some feel that’s backward thinking.
“They shouldn’t worry so much about protecting the offenders as protecting the children,” said a woman whose daughter was the victim of a sex crime at the hands of a previously convicted sex offender.
- The online hit-list doesn't just put the ex-offenders life in danger, it also puts their family and childrens lives in danger.
On April 23, 2001 Christopher’s Law was proclaimed, making Ontario the first province in Canada to have a sex offender registry.
It’s named for Christopher Stephenson, who was 11 years old when he was abducted from a mall in Brampton on Father’s Day weekend in 1988 by a convicted child molester, sexually assaulted and murdered.
A five-month inquest into the boy’s death resulted in the creation of both the provincial and a national sex offender registry. In Niagara, the registry had existed for three years before Canton took over running it in 2004. Since then, he has processed hundreds of convicted sex offenders.
The Awkward Room
When a person is convicted of committing a sex crime, they are automatically placed on Ontario’s Sex Offender Registry, and if they live in Niagara they must report to Canton at NRP headquarters in St. Catharines.
They’re photographed, then interviewed by the 35-year veteran inside a nondescript two-metre by three-metre room in the basement of the NRP building at 68 Church St.
It’s a grim place that Canton calls his office — three chairs, a small desk with a computer and a printer; a shelf with a few books and binders and a single 8.5 x 11 Christopher’s Law poster.
There’s also a well-worn police baton, hanging from a door handle. It dates back to Canton’s days on foot patrol and only adds to the ominous nature of the room.
He calls it the awkward room, because family members who accompany the offenders to the interviews often find out more about the crimes than they realized had happened.
“There have been a couple of times where the (relatives) were ‘told everything,’ and by the end it’s obvious they didn’t know everything,” Canton said.
It’s from this room that Canton tracks Niagara’s registered sex offenders.
Every year, they have to come in to have a new photograph taken. When they move, they have to tell him.
It’s also from within this room that Canton sometimes has to play therapist — doing what he can to keep these convicted criminals from reoffending.
“We collect as much data as we can, so it’s an excellent investigative tool,” he said.
Among the information collected is what stressers or triggers have led to a particular offender’s crimes in the past.
“They know why they’re here and they’re not happy about it, but they know they’re legislated to be here,” he said, adding there’s a 99.6% compliance rate with the registry in Niagara.
When people hear there are nearly 300 registered sex offenders living in Niagara, the first reaction is often to want their locations made public. People want to know if they’re living next door to a criminal.
In Florida, you can enter your address into a database and get a map of all the sex offenders living around you, complete with pictures. You can even join an e-mail list to have updates sent when sex offenders come and go.
“I don’t really agree with that,” said Canton. “When you start to identify offenders, you start to get less compliance and it pushes them underground.”
In Ontario, he said, the registry is meant to be more of an investigative tool for police than a way for residents to track criminals.
“It’s to maintain the whereabouts of the offender. The registry works the way it’s supposed to,” he said.
Since most sex offenders are known to their victims — they’re typically family members or family friends — identifying the offender could also risk identifying the victim.
“Eighty-six percent of children sexually assaulted were assaulted by someone they knew or had a relationship with,” said Donna Christie, public education co-ordinator for the Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre. “So you have to be careful about releasing that information.”
And then there’s vigilantism.
“As soon as someone hears sex offender, they think pedophile,” said Canton. “You start branding those people and you have the possibility of vigilantes.”
“I think having it available to the general public can certainly put people in jeopardy,” she said.
In 2006, a 20-year-old from Nova Scotia drove to Maine and murdered two sex offenders whose names he found on the state’s public registry.
Gary Blanton - Killed by law - Due to online public hit-list!
Canton also believes publicizing the location of registered sex offenders would create a “false sense of security.”
“There are hundreds of potential candidates that, if the registry had started earlier, they would be on the list,” he said. “You would think you know all the sex offenders in your neighbourhood, but there could be one next door that doesn’t have the requirements.”
Is it enough?
The question of how much information is enough is something Christie struggles with.
“The public has a right to know when there is someone living in their community, but I’m not sure how the police would monitor that,” she said.
While Christie believes the list shouldn’t be made entirely public, she does think families of victims should be kept better informed.
“I think families that have had something happen should be told when people are going to be released or are in their community, out of respect to them,” she said.
Who’s being protected?
One St. Catharines woman believes that had she known where a sex offender lived, she might have been able to keep her daughter from being victimized.
A known sex offender pleaded guilty to sexual interference involving the woman’s daughter at a St. Catharines apartment that was largely occupied by parents with young children. Unknown to the residents, the man with a criminal past was living in the same complex as them.
“I probably wouldn’t have been living here,” the woman said. “Maybe that’s why they don’t do it, because I’m sure they would have a lot of vacancies.”
The woman, who is now fighting to have the registry rules changed, said she thinks the wrong people are being protected by keeping the registry private.
“They do a whole lot more to protect sex offenders than innocent children or to try and protect other people from becoming victims,” she said.
Won't somebody please think of the children?