Thursday, November 5 - 11, 1998
Vol. 18 No. 10

Patrick Cain

p. 23.

Keystone Cops Sex Registry

Washroom sex might show up in Ontario's new offender list, but real pedophiles will probably go free

The Tory plan to bring in a sex offender registry may end by ensnaring innocents rather than protecting potential victims.

That's because there are indication that the Ontario government plans to tap into U. S. data banks for the list -- a really bad scene for anyone crossing back and forth across the border. Trouble is, what some sexually backward U.S. states regard as a sex crime is in Ontario merely an alternative sexual lifestyle. Being gay, for example.

Promised in April's throne speech, the plan for Ontario's sex offender registry is still being shaped behind closed doors in Tory policy circles. Officials in solicitor-general Bob Runciman's office are closed-mouthed about the details but make it clear that the idea will be law sooner or later.

Staff in Runciman's office would not discuss how Ontario's registry might be linked to the American systems.

"We are certainly looking forward to possibly having some kind of a national database in terms of the federal government," says spokesperson Martin McInally. "We're encouraging them to move forward on this. But in terms of the United States, it would be speculation for me to get into that."

NDP solicitor general critic Marion Boyd says she would prefer that Ontario not make use of U. S. dirt on individuals, "given that our laws are so substantially different."

No way

But Norm Gardner, chair of the Toronto police services board says that's just on, because there's no way to have a sex offender registry without making use of the U. S. goods. Just as the American state sex offender registry laws that inspired it are linked to each other, a working sex offender registry in Ontario would have to connect to those in the United States, he says.

"A lot of people who get involved with some antisocial issues travel back and forth over the border," Gardner says, "and police are trying to get closer linkages with other police in order to identify certain types of criminals, and we need those linkages."

Gardner, who says he's undecided on whether a registry is needed, says Ontario's law would have to be written in such a way as to apply Canadian standards to U. S. cases.

"Some (states) are still a bit backward," he observes. "I think we'd have to define what we would consider to be a sexual offence... I don't know of any place in Canada that would say that people who participate in oral sex should be on a registry. So I don't think we should be putting people through these things. Homosexuals or lesbians -- I don't think they should be on a registry. It doesn't seem right to me.

But if the law end up being anything like the American measures it's being copied from, it will involve accepting the verdicts of other jurisdictions that also have sex-offender registration systems -- if you have to register as a sex offender in one place, you also have to register elsewhere.

Since no province has a U. S.-style registry, that mostly means the 50 American states that have an eccentric patchwork of laws in force.

There, where register legislation was passed in the aftermath of horrific sexual murders of children by paroled sex offenders, the tendency is for sex offender registration to reach far beyond the predatory child molesters and rapists the laws were ostensibly aimed at. And under a recently passed American federal law, if a registered sex offender moves between states that have different attitudes toward registration, the norms of the more conservative jurisdiction will be used.

"For example," American Civil Liberties Union staff lawyer John Reinstein explains, "if you are in a state that has a very low threshold and requires lots of people to register, you would not be able to escape that by going out of state. How that works in practice, no one really knows, because it's just kicked in." (In many U. S. states, the legal upshot of Gwen Jacob's famous breast-baring protest would have been that she'd be forced to register as a sex offender for decades.)

Ironically, many genuine, convicted pedophiles never make it on to registries. In California, says the ACLU's Liz Schraeder, incestuous sex crimes are left off the registry to protect the identity of the victim, although 90 per cent of child molestations are incestuous.

Among the offences that can land you on an American sec offender registry: skinny-dipping in Massachusetts, oral sex in Georgia, and the love that dare not speak its name in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, the five states that still criminalize sex between consenting adult gays and lesbians.

A further 14 states ban "sodomy," a term covering not just anal but also oral sex.

About 2,000 people, straight and gay, were charged under Louisiana's sodomy law between 1988 and an injunction in 1994. A New Orleans court will soon decide whether the laws will stand.

And people convicted under these laws are sex offenders, as a California man found to his horror. In the early 50s, he had been convicted of having consensual sex with another man in a parked car. Forty years later, he got a letter from the Los Angeles police ordering him to register as a sex offender.

Consensual sex

In Massachusetts, says the ACLU's John Reinstein, a man is on the registry because, at 18, he was caught having sex, consensually, with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Now subject to mandatory registration, he must report his movements to police for the next 20 years, and the fact that his name is on the registry could be disclosed to anyone -- a spouse, an employer -- for any reason. His offence is listed as "indecent assault and battery on a child."

The trouble with Ontario tapping into American sex offender registries is that the information in them is more or less meaningless, Schraeder warns.

"You can't tell, tapping into it, if someone on the list is truly a monster that Canada would not want in its jurisdiction, or if it's someone who's caught up in a crazy law in the United States like Oklahoma's -- if they rented adult videos."

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Created: November 14, 1998
Last modified: November 14, 1998

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