Appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST) on Bill C-26, the Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act

February 16, 2015
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Daniel Therrien
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to present our views on Bill C-26, the Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act.

With me today is Carman Baggaley, Senior Policy Analyst.

My comments today will focus on the amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA)and the creation of the High Risk Child Sex Offender Database.

While Canadian courts have recognized that privacy is a quasi-constitutional right, it is not an absolute right.  In certain cases, it can be restricted to achieve other important societal goals, including enhancing public safety and protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.  However, with any proposed incursions into privacy, we need to evaluate beforehand whether these incursions are necessary and likely to be effective; whether they are proportional to the benefits that may be derived; and whether there are other less privacy intrusive measures that would achieve the same objective.

SOIRA

SOIRA received Royal Assent in 2004. The Act imposes significant obligations on convicted sex offenders, including the requirement to register with the police, and provide regular updated information about where they are living and other personal information. These are obligations that are not imposed on other offenders who have completed their sentences. 

In previous appearances before Parliamentary committees on SOIRA, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has raised questions about the effectiveness of this registration scheme and in 2009, we recommended a formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the legislation and the Registry by an independent third party. To our knowledge, no publicly funded evaluation has been done.  On the contrary, evaluations that have been done based on the experience in the United States suggest that there is little or no evidence that registration and notification laws are effective, either in terms of deterring sex offender recidivism or in reducing reported sex offences.Footnote 1

The High Risk Child Sex Offender Database Act

The High Risk Child Sex Offender Database Act will establish a publicly accessible database that contains information about persons who have been convicted of sexual offences against children and who pose a high risk of committing crimes of a sexual nature.  Although this information will be limited to information that a police service or other public authority has made public, making it available on a national database will greatly expand the number of people who have access to the information. 

Based on the research we have read, we at the OPC are concerned that the publicly accessible High Risk Offender Database proposal may not be a proportionate nor an effective response to the very problem it is trying to address.

This is in part because law enforcement agencies already have access to information about registered sex offenders, through the National Sex Offender Registry and other databases such as CPIC. So, how will the publicly available database increase the likelihood of arrest or reduce the risk of recidivism? We have not seen any evidence of such outcomes.

There is, however, research that supports the view that laws that reduce the privacy of sex offenders makes rehabilitation and reintegration more difficult. Ultimately, this could increase the rate of recidivism. A publicly accessible database also creates a risk of vigilantism, as recognized on provincial dangerous offender websites such as the one in place in Alberta, and increases the risk that fears of being attacked or harassed will drive offenders underground. There is evidence that similar databases in the United States have led to the killing of sex offenders released in the community.

To be clear, we empathize with victims of sexual offenders and understand the importance of the problem that this bill is attempting to address.

However, we urge the Committee to look carefully at the likely effectiveness of this proposal. We have set out our concerns in that regard but, as we are not experts in criminology, we look forward to hearing the testimony of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, who you called as witnesses today.

Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any privacy questions you may have.
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