Backlog threatens sex tourism crackdown

OTTAWA — A file-processing backlog at the RCMP could “significantly limit” the effectiveness of new measures to track Canadians who travel abroad to sexually abuse children, internal government notes warn.

Amendments that took effect Dec. 1 authorize the Mounties to share information about high-risk child sex offenders with the Canada Border Services Agency to help monitor their international travel.

It is against the law for a Canadian to travel outside of Canada and engage in any sexual activity with a young person that is against the law in Canada. The changes are intended to help Canadian authorities more easily investigate registered sex offenders who leave the country to abuse youngsters.

However, the RCMP must first assess thousands of files in the national sex offender registry to determine which ones fall into the high-risk category — a task that’s far from done, say the Public Safety notes obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

As of late November, the RCMP had assessed only 1,200 of 27,000 people in the registry with a child sex offence on their records, the notes say. “Consequently, until such time as the risk assessments are complete, this backlog may serve to significantly limit information sharing with (the border agency) related to the travel of high-risk child sex offenders.”

The RCMP said this week some 10,000 files have now been processed, but the overall inventory has grown in the last six months, meaning 20,000 offenders still need to be assessed.

No new funding was allocated to the RCMP or the federal border agency to implement the amendments, the internal notes say.

The Liberal government should make money available to the Mounties to assess the remaining files, said Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson, a former justice minister. “The safety and security of these children abroad are in danger when we aren’t doing our part.”

Public Safety officials declined to say how much progress had been made on phasing in the sharing provisions.

The amendments flow from legislation, introduced by the previous Conservative government, that received royal assent in June 2015. The Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act also increased penalties for sexual offences against young people.

Under the new measures, offenders convicted of a child sex offence must notify local police of any international travel.

In addition, RCMP officials who administer the national sex offender registry can disclose to the border agency a range of information about high-risk child sex offenders, including an individual’s name, date of birth, gender, and passport and driver’s licence numbers.

The border agency would also collect information from the offender regarding their travel dates and destinations, which would subsequently be shared with the RCMP, the Public Safety notes say.

This would allow police to see whether an offender complies with reporting obligations and to identify travel patterns that might warrant further investigation, including possible trips to other countries for child sex tourism.

Complicating matters is the fact the federal government lacks a complete picture of who has left the country.

The government has introduced legislation that would allow collection of departure information from all travellers, building on pilot projects with the United States. It says gathering and sharing this information will make it easier to track travelling child sex offenders.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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