Making a sex offender registry public, as proposed by Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, looks on first glance to be about the public’s right to know. Parents’ rights come first! Map out your neighbourhood, be informed, know where all the risks are for your kids!
But the proposal’s superficial appeal to voters falls apart on inspection. How would people change their behaviour if they knew where registered sex offenders live – except to drive their children further indoors, if such a thing is possible? How much would it take to terrorize people? Ten registered offenders in a neighbourhood? Three?
Few would accept living in a bunker for long. They would try to drive the sex offenders out of their homes and jobs. That is why some U.S. jurisdictions with public registries also have residency bans. Sex offenders – who may include a streaker, or a 20-year-old who had consensual sex with a teenager two weeks before her 16th birthday – are barred from living within, say, 2,500 metres of a school or playground. “In many cases, residency restrictions [in the U.S.]have the effect of banishing registrants from entire urban areas,” says Human Rights Watch.
And what happens, then? Sex offenders, major and minor, habitual and one-time offenders, are driven into the shadows. They become isolated from family, friends and supports. Won’t they become more likely, not less, to reoffend?
And why stop at sex offenders? Why not thieves, arsonists, people who beat others to a bloody pulp, paroled killers, terrorists, those on federal security certificates, fraudsters? The practice of reintegrating convicted criminals would be destroyed.
Mr. Hudak pointed to Alberta as a model. It has a public high-risk offender list (for selected sex offenders and others), replete with photos and criminal records. John Doe “is in the Calgary area,” says a typical entry. It is hard to see how Calgary’s children are any safer as a result.
In the U.S., harassment and violence (including murder) have been the predictable result of public registries available on the Internet, says Human Rights Watch. And for what? “Proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.”
Naming, shaming and giving addresses of sex offenders on the Internet is an easy grab for votes that would push people into the shadows, where they are most dangerous.