The U.S. government says it’s frustrated that Ottawa refuses to routinely notify Washington when Canadians convicted of sexual offences against children travel to the United States, noting that it alerts Canada when the same class of American offenders are heading here.
The Americans say Canada cites federal privacy law as the reason.
The United States 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. In the United States, this information is used to alert their destination countries.
Angel Watch Center, which is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, is required by law to notify all countries to which registered sex offenders travel outside the United States.
“I will confirm that we do send notices to Canada on child sex offenders and it is done whenever they travel. And they [Canadians] are made aware,” Angel Watch section chief Daniel Kenney said in an interview. “No, we haven’t received reciprocal information ... In the past, we have been told privacy laws prevent them from sharing that information.”
Mr. Kenney said the U.S. government would like Ottawa to amend its laws to allow the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency to provide information on the travel plans of all registered child sex offenders.
“We just try continually to encourage them to share that information with us and it would be beneficial for us to receive that as well,” he said. “We will continue to share with the other countries, but we would very much appreciate reciprocal notification.”
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 November, 2021, two convicted pedophiles were turned away at Pearson International Airport after Homeland Security notified Canada of their travel to Toronto, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. In October, three U.S. passengers convicted of sexual abuse against children were not allowed to get off a cruise ship in Vancouver.
In 2019, U.S. officials notified Canada that 64 convicted child molesters were on cruise ships, allowing Canadian Border Service agents to refuse them permission to land, the source said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.
RCMP Staff-Sergeant Alain Gagnon, manager of the National Sex Offender Registry, said the database is governed by the Sexual Offender Registry Act. The law forbids the RCMP to share information on convicted sex offenders with another country unless they have 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.
“We can disclose information to a police service outside Canada when it is necessary to assist them in prevention or investigation of a crime of a sexual nature,” Staff-Sgt. Gagnon said in an interview. “That is really the only thing we can use as authorization to notify another country of a sex offender travelling.”
The Privacy Commissioner’s website says such information should not be shared “on a systematic or routine basis.”
Canada shared information on a child sex offender with another country for the first time in January, 2019, Staff-Sgt. Gagnon said. 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 his plane landed. Later that year, the RCMP also notified the U.S. about the travel of two “high risk” Canadian child sex offenders, Staff-Sgt. Gagnon said.
In 2021, the RCMP notified four countries about the travel of Canadian child sex offenders, and so far this year, there have been three notifications, but none were to the United States, Staff-Sgt. Gagnon said.
Former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson said the Mounties would like to routinely share information with the U.S. on child sexual predators, but hesitate because of concerns about privacy.
“I think the impact of these sorts of crimes is outweighed by the general notion of privacy taken to a very extreme level,” he said.
Just before he retired in 2017, Mr. Paulson said he went on a “mad campaign” to engage the government on the “scope and scale” of child sexual exploitation, but didn’t get very far.
He added that preventive measures of this kind tend to be “frowned upon” in Canada.
“I’d like to see some courageous steps taken in terms of sharing this information,” he said. “Carefully, of course.”
The RCMP database 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 dates of birth, employment information, addresses, a photograph and physical description. They must notify the RCMP when they plan to travel within Canada or abroad.
In the United States, the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking 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.
Mr. Kenney said about 10 countries provide reciprocal notifications to the United States. He declined to say which, but said many European countries also refuse to share such information because of privacy laws.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.