Ottawa plans to introduce legislation that would allow the federal government to routinely notify Washington when Canadians convicted of sexual offences against children travel to the United States.
The Americans have been pushing the government for years to share travel information on convicted pedophiles as the U.S. has been doing since 2016. The issue has recently been discussed at the ministerial level of both governments.
In August, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas raised the request for reciprocity directly with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who promised to see what could be done. The Americans want the ability to deny entry to such travellers.
In an interview, Mr. Mendicino said his department is looking at amending the Sex Offender Information Registration Act to give the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency “greater flexibility so we can alert Americans to potential risks of child sexual offenders.”
“I just want to make it clear that child sexual exploitation is heinous. I am taking it and the government is taking it very seriously and we do want to move quickly on this file,” he said.
The government is looking at requiring convicted child offenders to provide 60 days’ notice to the RCMP before they leave the country and to lower the high-risk threshold for which travel information can be shared with the United States.
The U.S. and Canada have sex-offender registries, and child sexual predators are required to report any plans to travel outside the country to law-enforcement authorities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is required by law to notify all countries to which registered sex offenders travel outside the United States.
In Canada, child sexual offenders must report within seven days before leaving the country the dates of their departure and return, and every address or location at which they expect to stay outside the country.
However, Canadian law forbids the RCMP to share information on convicted sex offenders with another country unless the force has evidence an offence is going to be committed. All federal legislation in Canada must conform to the Privacy Act, which says that information about Canadians cannot be routinely shared.
The Americans want the high-risk-of-reoffence threshold lowered so they are informed of the travel of mid-risk convicted child sexual offenders. A Public Safety department official said the 60 days’ travel notice would allow the RCMP time to assess whether an offender poses a threat to children if allowed into the U.S. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
“We are looking at both timelines and thresholds so that we can provide greater notice to Americans so that they are able to be alerted when somebody may be attempting to travel into their country if they are a child sexual offender,” Mr. Mendicino said. He added, though, that any move to lower the risk threshold would have to meet the test of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has access to the manifests of U.S. passenger airlines and cruise ships, which it runs through databases to determine if anyone who will be on board has been convicted of child sex abuse. The information is shared with Canadian authorities 24 to 48 hours before the trip.
In the first half of 2022, the U.S. shared travel details of 165 U.S. citizens convicted of child sexual offences, according to U.S. data. Canada denied entry to 112 of those Americans. In the same period, Canada alerted the U.S. to one high-risk child sexual offender. The U.S. denied entry to the individual.
Canada shared information on a child sex offender with another country for the first time in January, 2019. The RCMP alerted authorities in the Dominican Republic that a Canadian planned to fly from Toronto to Sosua Bay, a known destination for child sex offenders. He was returned to Canada after the plane he was on landed.
The RCMP database, which manages the National Sex Offender Registry, has more than 59,069 registered sex offenders and, of those, about 72 per cent have committed sexual crimes against children. These offenders must provide the RCMP registry with their date of birth, employment information, address, a photograph and physical description. They must notify the RCMP when they plan to travel within Canada or abroad.
In the United States, a child sex-trafficking law requires the State Department to place a “unique identifier” on the passports of convicted child sex offenders. It also demands that such offenders notify law enforcement at least 21 days before travelling abroad.
About 10 countries provide reciprocal notifications to the United States. Many European countries refuse to share such information because of privacy laws.