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It was an open secret among teenagers in suburban Mississauga, just west of Toronto, that Douglas Moore, a serial pedophile, had set himself up as a drug dealer across from an elementary school. Now two young men and a teenage boy are dead, apparently killed by Mr. Moore, who has since committed suicide. Three young children, two of them in foster care, are also believed to have been sexually assaulted repeatedly by Mr. Moore.

In an era obsessed with protecting children from pedophiles, there was a complete breakdown of society's defences.

The first breakdown occurred in the criminal justice system. In 1986, when he was 18, Mr. Moore sexually assaulted four boys 12 to 16 in southern Ontario. He received a sentence of probation. It is unclear whether this absurdly light sentence reflected a judicial tendency to give youthful offenders a second chance or a tendency to trivialize the sexual assaults of boys. Whatever the case, it left him free to attack again.

In 1989 he was sentenced to four years in jail for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy, but while out on day parole he committed another sexual assault and received another four years in jail. Why were six convictions for sexual assault in five years not sufficient to earn him designation as a dangerous offender?

The National Parole Board considered him such a risk to attack or even kill that it refused to release him, even at the nearly automatic release point two-thirds into his sentence. Mr. Moore, a drug kingpin while in jail, then entered a sex-offender treatment program and became known as such a model student that in little more than a year the parole board sang his praises. "It would appear that your preferences are now for adult rather than underaged males and for consenting sex rather than non-consenting sex or non-sexual violence," the board said in releasing him to a halfway house in Hamilton six months before his sentence expired. Is the justice system's faith in treatment for sex offenders misplaced?

No one in authority was watching when Mr. Moore sold illegal drugs across from a schoolyard. Teenage boys came and went and sometimes stayed the night. Some parents knew that he was dealing drugs, but not that their own children were involved. One man who lived down the road from Mr. Moore says he told a police officer in Peel Region that Mr. Moore was selling drugs to teenagers, but the officer said he was in the area on another matter. So much for curiosity in policing.

Shockingly, Peel Regional Police acknowledge that they did not know a serial pedophile was living in their vicinity. This shows the gaping hole in community defences against predators. Mr. Moore's last criminal conviction predated the 2001 Ontario Sex Offender Registry, which requires offenders to keep in contact with police. His last conviction also predated the federal long-term-offender law, which allows judges to impose up to 10 years of "intensive supervision" in the community. How many other potentially dangerous sex offenders are being released into similar anonymity, and to what extent is this breeding a sense of impunity?

It is unclear when Peel Police twigged to the danger posed by Mr. Moore. After the disappearance of two young men, 20 and 22, both of whose bodies have since been found, the father of one of them did extensive legwork in the community, heard the name Douglas Moore over and over again, and gave his name and address to police. "Joe, usually these types are not violent," the father quotes a police officer as saying. This was a month before 15-year-old Rene Charlebois disappeared from his Mississauga home. Meanwhile, a foster family had been allowing Mr. Moore to babysit without a criminal-records check, according to the Peel Region Children's Aid Society, which oversees foster care.

This tragedy of errors was later compounded by the fact that the detention centre where Mr. Moore was being held on charges of abusing the foster children did not put him on suicide watch, because police had apparently not relayed a concern that he was suicidal.

By killing himself, Mr. Moore deprived the community of answers. But that should not be the end of it. An inquiry is needed to find out why a convicted predator could deal drugs openly, consort with teenagers, babysit young children and live across from an elementary school without anyone in authority paying attention until it was too late.

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