Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would point out that the Canadian Alliance will not be able to accuse the Bloc Quebecois of being close-minded, after its most cavalier treatment of me yesterday.
That will not be the case today because, at a first glance, the proposal being debated now is of considerable interest, since it is aimed at introducing a measure that will act as a safety net against a specific type of crime and criminal. It is a sort of constructive control, but it is mainly a means of preventing sex offenders who have served their sentences from reoffending.
This idea of creating a national sex offender registry has been in the air for some time. It is, in fact, the outcome of a recommendation following on the investigative report on the murder of young Christopher Stephenson in 1988. A consensus followed on the critical need for this project in order to preserve the safety of all citizens.
More than a reflection of the public's will, the idea gathered the support of organizations such as the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime and political parties such as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, the Canadian Alliance and the Bloc Quebecois, under certain conditions, however.
They all suggested the Government of Canada act without delay by putting an end to a situation that appeared increasingly symptomatic of a weakness in our justice system.
Experience has shown and research confirms a high risk of recidivism among sex offenders, in most cases. This warning from the experts together with the reactions of a number of police forces in the country have bolstered the convictions of victims and, accordingly, of the people with respect to a problem we can no longer ignore.
In an effort to take an enlightened and, if possible, a dispassionate look, let us examine just what the creation of a sex offender registry might mean.
Keeping such a registry of sex offenders appears at first glance to be based on a legitimate principle, that of protecting the public from the potential recidivism of offenders sentenced for specific sexual offences and now at the end of their sentence.
Often left to themselves and facing serious problems arising from repressed sexual urges, this category of offender is more likely to be a repeat offender. As we know, crimes of a sexual nature are especially heinous because they often involve our society's most vulnerable members. Children are the preferred victims of this sort of predator, who are not always settled down by a period behind bars.
Given this potential risk, prevention remains the best remedy to a problem which unfortunately makes headlines all too often. We do not want our communities to become hostages because of the inadequacies of a system that is powerless to eliminate a type of crime that puts lives in danger. The proposed solution is a concrete measure to correct a situation that could deteriorate if nothing is done to reduce its sad consequences.
The establishment of such a sex offender registry, which would include the offender's name, address and date of birth, and the list of sex crimes committed, would allow a much more thorough follow up on these people. Under such a procedure, offenders would have to inform local police forces of their whereabouts. This would allow society to keep an eye on these offenders who, in the absence of such a monitoring system, always remain a potential threat.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the registry must be established under very specific rules. The inclusion of all offences related to a sex crime must be included in the offender's record. The rules must be clear.
Second, the registry must be maintained by responsible authorities and be consulted only by these same authorities. We are talking of course about police forces.
Third, we must ensure a long term follow up which, as suggested in some documents, would require offenders who have received a ten year sentence to report for a ten year period. Those who would have been handed down harsher sentences could be required to report to police forces for a longer period of time.
Finally, these sex offenders should be informed that their names will remain in the registry for a predetermined period. Thus, this close monitoring, which is not a guarantee against sex offences, will at least help lower the risk by reducing the chances of recidivism. It will ensure that police forces have all the information they need to keep tabs on offenders and act quickly when the worst happens. These few points form the basis for an approach that could be a practical way of easing the community's concern. Since every initiative rests on a solid foundation, those who favour such a registry have done their homework.
The American model has produced interesting results, which have been a driving force in this project. A number of states have introduced a sex offender registry, including California in 1947 and, quite recently, Alaska in 1994. Each state has its own registry, and the FBI is thinking of creating a national registry, which is a significant attempt to keep tabs on sex offenders.
Although we feel that such registries do not prevent all crimes, they do help the police to identify suspects and eventually make arrests. Such a program therefore meets a need and fulfils specific expectations.
If we look at the European context, 88% of the 641 respondents in a survey in Great Britain said that they would like to be warned of the presence of pedophiles in their neighbourhood. Once again, this is a trend that reflects the concerns expressed by Canadians.
Our case is therefore not an isolated one and is part of an approach that is increasingly becoming the norm. We cannot avoid it and we certainly cannot remain insensitive to the entirely legitimate demands of the community.
However, despite the enthusiasm of those in favour of creating such a registry, certain precautions must be taken in order to avoid abuses. To that end, the new powers assigned to the police forces must be given a framework, with the limits set right from the start in order to avoid problems later on.
First of all, it needs to be stipulated that the right of access to personal information on offenders must be given only to the solicitor general and the law enforcement agencies. The general public must at no time have access to this bank of information. It must not be in general circulation and it must be intended, not as an alert to the population, but rather as a means to enable the police to monitor the offender, somewhat along the lines of what a parole officer would do. The goal would be the same: rehabilitation.
What needs to be kept in mind is that this registry must not become a means of allowing the public to conduct witch hunts. It must not be a means of stigmatizing all of these offenders, for some of them do manage to get over their obsessions. It is a useful tool, but it must be used only for its intended purposes.
Some people see the creation of an offender registry as a kind of attack on rights and freedoms. Of course, the usual steps need to be taken in order to safeguard the basic principle of rights for all. The interests of the community as a whole must also be considered, however. The Alaska legislative assembly is one example of this. It has adopted the creation of such a register, with the following statement:
—since there is a strong likelihood of repeat offences by sex offenders, and since it is ... vital to protect the public from sex offenders, protection of these offenders' privacy is not as important as the State's interest in protecting the public.
This principle also serves as the basis for an approach that places the community's interests above the individual interests of criminals who continue to present a risk to society.
In this regard, a ready link may be made with the other file being defended by the Bloc Quebecois, which, for the same reasons of protection, is fighting to have membership in a criminal group declared illegal. Others are expressing certain fears about such an initiative, because of the precedent it may establish, for example. People go so far as to think the establishment of this registry of personal information will open the door to other much more disquieting initiatives.
In this spirit, the allusion to the centralized megafile that put the Liberal government on the hot seat not so long ago rises as the ghost of the return of this form of register, the idea being that there would not be a series of this type of files gathering information here and there on the public for purposes other than public security and protection. I point out once again that it is by proceeding clearly from the outset, setting up specific guidelines, that we will prevent excesses.
In conclusion, after reviewing the benefits of the proposal we are debating here, and identifying the pitfalls to be avoided, I believe a national sex offenders registry could function.
Beyond the natural concerns raised by this measure, which is entirely new to us, with its objectives it will have a direct and, we hope, positive effect on the public. This effect will be felt as a preventive measure, an approach that has always had good results, so the public may feel truly safe.
This motion is broad enough to earn the support of the Bloc Quebecois. However, when a bill is formulated in this regard, we will ensure that it contains the conditions we have mentioned.