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Politics Trudeau accuses Tories of crass politics over public sex-offender registry demands

Prime Minister Justine Trudeau stands in the House of Commons during Question Period in Parliament in Ottawa, on June 7, 2017.

Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the safety of children is a priority, but he won't say whether his government will move ahead with a public registry for high-risk sex offenders.

In the House of Commons, Conservative MPs demanded Wednesday to know whether the Liberals would create the online tool, made possible by legislation the previous government ushered through Parliament.

The Canadian Press recently reported that Public Safety officials had urged the Liberals to put the brakes on a public registry.

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An internal March 2016 memo says "a number of concerns have been raised" – from resource pressures to fears of vigilante-style attacks on offenders – that would support dropping the idea of a public database.

"If the Liberals have a problem with the public being informed about dangerous criminals living in their neighbourhood, then Canadian parents have a right to know," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said during question period Wednesday.

Trudeau said police are already advised when high-risk sex offenders are released and that officers can inform the public of any concerns.

The Conservatives wouldn't let the issue go.

MP Rob Nicholson, a former justice minister, said Canadians should a public registry would give people information to help keep their children safe. "Will the prime minister do the right thing, yes or no? Canadians deserve to know."

Trudeau accused the Opposition of playing "the worst kind of crass political games" on a serious issue.

The Conservatives tabled legislation for the public registry, but "did not put any money toward it," which was typical of the previous government, Trudeau said.

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"It was all talking a big game, not actually delivering. We are focused on concretely keeping our communities safe and giving police the tools necessary to keep our communities safe."

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

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. Currently such information is available only to authorities.

The notes 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 Public Safety Canada and RCMP would undertake a review and consult interested parties "for a fully informed assessment of the proposed new database" and develop options for the government.

A Public Safety official said last week that "work on this initiative is ongoing."

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