Mr. Speaker, there are some acknowledgements that should be made for the bill. First, we as the official opposition, will be agreeing to the bill. It has been a long battle and there are some acknowledgements that have to be made.
This bill was not conceived in the House of Commons. It derived from the Ontario legislature and the efforts of Jim and Ann Stephenson whose son Christopher was murdered by a sex offender. Many years have gone by and Jim and Ann have lobbied the Ontario government successfully enough to get legislation in place. From there I took over and wrote the legislation and tabled it as Bill C-333 on April 4, 2001. At that time it was very difficult to convince the government quite frankly, that there was a need for a sex offender registry. Thanks to the police, Jim and Ann Stephenson, the solicitors general of the country, and many, many other people, the government was convinced that there had to be a registry and here it is today.
I do not think the government should stand here and say, “Look what we have done for you folks”. It is a majority government and yes it does take the Liberals to implement important sex offender registry legislation like this bill, but it has to be clearly understood that it was the efforts of many people in this country that got it here.
One of the big issues of this legislation was whether or not it was going to be retroactive. That took a lot of work as well. I am pleased to see that at least the government reacted to this and we do have it. There are several things within the legislation that are undone and although they are not as complete as we would like them to be and they are basically not complete as I had originally written them in 2002, that is okay because we can fix it. We can either form the government and fix it, or convince the government that it needs to be fixed and accommodate that.
Some of those changes follow. For instance, young offenders are not in the registry. Those who are convicted in youth court will not show up in the registry. We feel that has to occur because many of those young offenders will likely go on to be adult sex offenders. It is important to get them on the registry so that we have some idea of what is coming up.
I know the feelings with the government in particular that young offenders are a different group and should be handled differently. When it comes to sex offences, members should know that sex offenders have a very high recidivism rate. It is not just a problem that is created and goes away. In many cases they are likely to reoffend. That is why they should be included in the registry.
Another problem is that the entry on the registry is by application from the crown counsel. This is a particular problem that the government should listen to. One day we are going to have to change this. Whether it is our government or the Liberal government, we are going to have to change this because it creates inequities in the registry.
For instance, someone who was charged and convicted of sexual assault in Halifax would only enter on the registry if the crown applied. If that same offence occurred perhaps in Edmonton and the crown applied there and it went ahead, then the individual in Edmonton would be on the registry and the one in Halifax would not be on the registry.
Those people are portable; they will go from province to province. Eventually as the crown does not make application to enter them on the registry, we will find that there are many inequities and gaps in the system. People will ask why a fellow who had committed sexual assault two or three times was not on the registry. Well, the crown did not apply.
My experience is that in many cases crown counsel does not make application. I have seen it with dangerous sex offenders and dangerous offender applications. They do not apply because they are too busy, the courts are tied up and it is more work, or they just do not feel that a particular person should be on the list for one reason or another.
There is a schedule of sex offences. Once someone is convicted of a sex offence on the schedule, it should be automatic. The person should be on the registry and stay on the registry until the person is withdrawn, not on application from the crown.
The other issue we are concerned about is that the offender has the right to appeal. There goes more court cases. What offender would not appeal being on the sex offender registry? My office just had a call from a sex offender a few hours ago who said, “I do not like these sex offender ideas”. We asked him why. He said, “I am on it. I do not like this. It is not a good idea”. Every one of them will be appealing it. If a person is convicted of a sex offence which already exists on the schedule, there should be no appeal. That person is a sex offender and should be on it, therefore there should be no appeal and no application from crown counsel.
The other area we are concerned about is that the judge has discretion. The crown has discretion, the offender has the right to appeal and after all of this, now the judge comes into it and says, “I have particular concerns about privacy. The person should not be on the registry because it is an affront to his livelihood”. The judge can say, “No, even though you apply and even if you appeal, I do not want you on the registry”.
There is far too much discretion throughout the system for the system to work well. We should take out that discretion. We should eliminate the crown's application ability, eliminate the appeal process and eliminate the judge's discretion. That is the way it has to be.
The other area we are concerned about is that sex offenders on prisoner exchanges are exempt. That means if a person is a Canadian sex offender who has committed a crime, a serious sex offence in the United States and that person is brought back to Canada to serve the time, that person is not entered on the sex offender registry. That is absurd. It has been explained to us that there is a big difficulty in perhaps matching a certain crime in the United States to the same type of crime in Canada, but a sex offence basically is a sex offence. Therefore, prisoners on prisoner exchanges should be included on the registry.
The final area with which we are having difficulty is that if a person does not register on the sex offender registry, that person can get up to two years imprisonment. A person who does not register on the gun registry can get up to 10 years imprisonment. What does that say to law-abiding gun owners in Canada? A person gets 10 years for not registering a gun, but a person gets two years for not registering as a sex offender. That is completely absurd. That kind of thought process does not even make sense.
There are six items about which we have some very deep concerns. To the people watching and listening to what I am saying, yes, we will go along with the sex offender registry and yes, it will be retroactive to include all those who are currently incarcerated, but there is work to be done. Much like the victims rights legislation that we put through the House of Commons, we are still looking for changes on that to assist victims of crime in their dealings with the courts.
I will stop there. I have registered our concerns. I have also indicated that it is not only the Liberal government that can stand up and say, “Look what we are doing for Canadians”. It is really the effort of many Canadians. Jim and Ann Stephenson in particular should take a bow for this one. They have done a great deal. That is why I originally wrote the legislation.
The police, the solicitors general, the Liberal government and the official opposition should all take a bow on this one. Canada is a better place for having a sex offender registry.