Officials advise Goodale to rethink idea of public sex offender database

One concern is possibility of vigilante attacks

OTTAWA — Federal officials have advised Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to put the brakes on setting up a publicly accessible database of high-risk child sex offenders.

The previous Conservative government ushered in legislation that opened the door to allowing the RCMP to create such a database as part of measures to crack down on child predators.

An internal memo to Goodale from Public Safety officials says “a number of concerns have been raised” — from resource pressures to fears of vigilante-style attacks — that would support dropping the database idea.

The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to recently obtain the March 2016 memo and other internal notes on the legislative measures.

The proposed database would provide the public with a national inventory of high-risk child sex offenders in their communities and allow them to take appropriate precautions, the notes say.

They indicate that officials recommended proceeding with elements of the legislation that impose new reporting requirements on registered sex offenders and allow for better information sharing between federal agencies.

But officials suggested the department and RCMP would undertake a review and consult interested parties “for a fully informed assessment of the proposed new database and develop options for your consideration in moving forward.”

A Public Safety official said this week that “work on this initiative is ongoing.”

Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson said the Liberal government should implement the database.

“If a dangerous sex offender has been released or has moved into your neighbourhood, I think people have a right to know,” Nicholson said.

“The government should proceed with this. And if they’ve got issues with it, I think they should let the public know.”

The internal Public Safety notes say the database would consolidate information on high-risk offenders currently issued by police forces across the country and provide an additional tool for law enforcement to monitor offenders.

It would also help federal departments carry out their mandates — for instance, providing Passport Canada with information that might result in revocation of a travel document, the notes say. In addition, the database could help foreign officials keep an eye on offenders who travel to their countries.

Still, the Public Safety notes point out that measures already exist to notify the public regarding high-risk offenders.

The federal prison service is required to provide information to local police when it believes an offender about to be released poses a threat. This information is used by police to decide whether public notification is necessary.

Officials noted other concerns, including:

— Possible regional differences in the information available in the database due to varying practices in provinces and territories;

— Lack of new funding for the RCMP to create and operate the database;

— Fears that many ex-offenders “go underground” to avoid the scrutiny and exposure of family members that comes from publication of their offences, address and other personal information. “This further inhibits effective law enforcement as police do not know the whereabouts of these offenders and are no longer able to monitor them to prevent possible reoffending”;

— Use of information in public sex offender registries in the United States to carry out vigilante actions;

— Lack of evidence that such databases have a significant impact on reducing the rate of sex offences, compared with treatment and reintegration programs that have led to reductions in recidivism, often at a lower cost.

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