Tracking sex offenders the hard way

Police are hampered by holes in the sex-offender legislation

Tracking sex offenders the hard way

One of the problems plaguing Canada’s national sex offender registry is that the database has no idea if an offender is following the rules. Everyone on the list—almost 22,000 names—is supposed to check in with police once a year, if they move, or take a long vacation. But for reasons that defy logic, the legislation that created the registry doesn’t actually allow the RCMP to record an offender’s next reporting date. To compensate, officers across the country have been forced to invent completely separate tracking systems. Some provinces use Excel spreadsheets to monitor rapists and pedophiles. Others rely on an old-fashioned Rolodex.

Those index cards seemed destined for the garbage bin in June, when the Conservatives introduced Bill C-34, a law that would finally grant police the power to input crucial tracking information directly onto the registry. Unfortunately, when Parliament prorogued in December, the bill died with it. Which means—yet again—repairs to the registry will have to wait.

In the meantime, though, the RCMP can celebrate one thing: despite those Rolodexes, compliance rates have actually improved. According to the latest numbers, 95 per cent of registered sex offenders are doing what they’re told, up from 92 per cent in 2007. Three years ago, when the system contained close to 16,000 entries, 1,270 were non-compliant. Today, as the total climbs above 22,000, only 979 are unaccounted for.

Why the improvement? Pierre Nezan, the Mountie in charge of the registry, credits his front-line officers, who—despite the obvious glitches—are determined to chase down the violators. “We’re working with what we have,” he says. “Over the last several months there has been some movement to change all this, and I’m hopeful it’s going to happen. But my crystal ball is as good as yours.”

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