The Progressive Conservative candidate for Toronto Centre, Martin Abell, defended his party’s pledge to create a publicly searchable sex-offender registry in a Sept 20 interview with Xtra.
The PC platform “Changebook” includes a plan to force sex offenders to wear GPS bracelets upon release from prison and to have their names, photos and addresses posted on a publicly searchable website.
A federal sex-offender registry has operated since 2004 but is available only to the police. US states are required by federal law to make their sex-offender registries available to the public, but no Canadian province allows public access to such a registry.
Sex-offender registries have proven controversial. Because a wide variety of crimes are considered sex offences, a sex offender can be considered anyone from a violent rapist to a campus streaker, a 19-year-old who has consensual sex with his underage partner, someone caught in a bawdyhouse, a sex worker or two gay men caught having consensual sex in park bushes. Studies also show that 80 to 90 percent of true sexual predators are already known to their victims as friends or family members and that recidivism rates for convicted offenders are low, making the value of a registry questionable.
Abell says the registry would target only violent offenders. “This is aimed at people who’ve gone through a court proceeding and found guilty and identified as high risk to reoffend.”
But that’s not mentioned in the Tory platform.
Abell says a registry would make communities safer by allowing parents to know where up to 14,000 registered sex offenders are living. But he is cagey when asked what parents are supposed to do with the knowledge that a sex offender lives in their neighbourhood or apartment building.
“Information gives us greater awareness, and you’ll know that there are individuals in the building,” he says. “You’ll have the assurance that if they’re high risk of reoffending, they’ll be monitored and you’ll know where they are.”
In extreme cases, sex-offender registries have led to vigilante actions against registered offenders. In a highly publicized 2006 case, a Nova Scotia man murdered two men on Maine’s sex-offender registry before killing himself.
One of the victims had been listed for having consensual sex when he was 20 with his underage girlfriend, days before she turned 16. Maine is considering legislation that would require sex offences to be “tiered” according to the severity of their crime but will keep the registry public.
Private websites often mirror the official public sex-offender registries with inaccurate or out-of-date information, putting more people at risk.
Studies have shown that sex-offender registries make it much harder for released offenders to find work or housing, but Abell says that shouldn’t affect offenders’ ability to reintegrate into society.
“I think people who go through the court system, they have a record, and there’ll be often the publicity around the trial. These are challenges they’re already facing,” he says. “I don’t think it would make it any more difficult than the challenges these individuals already have. Our emphasis right now is reintegrating Ontario into the larger global economy.”
On the subject of Catholic schools’ reluctance to enforce the province’s equity and inclusive education policy, which requires all public schools to provide supports for gay and lesbian students, Abell says the Tories have no plan to alter current policy.
“We’re expecting the school boards to address the issues. When you get pushback it requires closer scrutiny because there’s a system in place. We certainly want the local ability to make adjustments, but if it’s going to cause larger issues, it has to be watched with closer scrutiny,” he says.
But Abell refused to speculate on how the government might enforce the policy against a school board’s wishes.
“I’m not in power yet,” he says. “I can’t help you with that, but when I am I’d like to delve into it further.”
Abell’s campaign office, on Yonge St south of Davenport, features a prominent sign in support of the Riverdale Farm, a municipal attraction that’s been targeted by Mayor Ford for closure. Abell says he’d like to see the farm stay open for the community but does not believe it’s up to the city to run it.
“You have to do your homework, and community groups have to be willing to look at different options,” he says. “Private, charitable, making it so it’s flexible enough to work those out, I think is very important.”
Abell will not be attending the 519 Church St Community Centre debate sponsored by Xtra on Sept 22. He says he had a preexisting commitment to attend a meet-and-greet hosted by a Cabbagetown resident.