Should Canada's sex offender registry be open to the public?
Published Monday, October 31, 2016 3:51PM PDT Last Updated Monday, October 31, 2016 6:56PM PDT
Canada's sex offender registry is currently only accessible to police, but some say the public should have access to more information on who is living in their communities.
Nights like Halloween, where children head door-to-door, have some people realizing how little they know about their neighbours.
Some B.C. residents would like to see Canada's sex offender registry go public, including the mayor of Mission, who recently learned a man with a high risk of reoffending had moved in nearby.
James Conway moved to Mission in the summer, after the owners of his halfway house in Abbotsford chose not to renew the lease.
The 41-year-old's crimes include sexual interference with a minor, sexual assault and arson, and B.C. Corrections issued a warning to the public at the time of the move.
Conway is subject to close monitoring by authorities and 25 court-ordered conditions, but Corrections said he has a pattern of sexual offences against female children "in a predatory and opportunistic manner."
Mission Mayor Randy Hawes said the reaction to Conway's move was panic.
"We had no idea this man was coming," he told CTV News. He said he feels that the public should have more access to information on offenders living in their community than just the details sent out by police in high-risk cases.
Hawes said he believes Canada should adopt a system similar to the one in Washington State, which lets users search for offenders by address.
For example, a search of the area of Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham shows that 11 offenders are living within a two-mile radius.
Users can then click the name of the offender to see their height, weight, age, and hair and eye colour. The website only gives their approximate address – the hundred block or intersection of the street their living in – for the safety of the offender, and to protect victims who may be related to them.
They can click "View Details" and pull up a page with more information, including scars and tattoos, and which crimes they were convicted of committing. One of the people within the range of Bellis Fair was convicted of assaulting three girls while working as a babysitter. Another pleaded guilty to sexually abusing an infant.
Users can also register for email alerts, or file tips or complaints on specific offenders through the site.
Information is available across the country through the National Sex Offender Public Website run by the U.S. Department of Justice. The NSOPW lets members of the public to select their state, then redirects them to either a First Nations database or their state's own database.
While the databases won't help residents get an offender to move out of their neighbourhood, they do allow people to know who they need to watch out for, the Mission mayor said.
"If I know that there's a pedophile in my neighbourhood, and I know what he looks like, I can at least show my kids that picture, I can show my neighbours that picture, and we can all be looking out in the back of our mind," Hawes said.
He said he wouldn't necessarily go out of his way to track down a sex offender, "but we're aware of him, and we know what he looks like, and if we see him down at the leisure centre or the swimming pool or wherever kids are, we can phone the police and do something about it."
When that information is only accessible to police, residents don't know, and won't know to report someone if they break their conditions, he said.
Hawes said that he believes that in general, the public should be entitled to its privacy, but that people forfeit that right when they harm someone else.
"It seems to me, 'Let's endanger the public to protect the rights of a predatory pedophile.' There's something wrong with that, fundamentally wrong."
Several people south of the border said they found the registry comforting.
"A lot of people base where they live on the schooling, the hospitals, why can't they base it on if I'm going to be by a level-three sex offender?" one person said.
"I think it makes the person that is the offender aware that people are watching him," said another.
Public Safety Canada said there are legislative provisions for a publicly accessible database of high-risk child sex offenders, but more consultation is needed before one could be created.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber