Among potential penalties if convicted of a criminal sexual offence in Toronto is mandatory inclusion on the Ontario Sex Offender Registry (OSOR). The registry is designed to help law enforcement agencies investigate sex-related crimes and keep track of high-risk sexual offenders. It was enacted into law in 2001 following the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 11-year-old Christopher Stephenson by a repeat sexual offender. The registry is commonly referred to as “Christopher’s Law.”
While Ontario was the first province to establish a sex offender registry, the federal government enacted a similar system under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA) in 2004. Both were developed under recommendations provided by the coroner’s inquest into the Stephenson abduction and death. OSAR operates concurrently with the federal registry which provides interagency law enforcement access to either. Both registries also operate under nearly identical conditions and compliance mandates.
In short, if you have been placed on one registry, you are essentially on the other one, too. For the purposes of this article, references regarding OSAR apply equally to SOIRA unless indicated otherwise.
How Does the Sex Offender Registry Work?
Those convicted of a sexual offence and ordered to register as a sexual offender will be required to comply with OSAR mandates for either a minimum of 10 years or for life, depending upon the conviction terms. Those with more than one sexual offence conviction, or conviction that results in a prison term exceeding 10 years, are subject to lifetime inclusion on the registry. All others are subject to the 10-year inclusion term. The national sex offender registry, it should be noted, also includes a 20-year registry term.
Reporting requirements mandate that offenders must register with their local police jurisdiction within seven days of completing any custodial sentencing, or after conviction if not sentenced to prison or jail time. Registration involves providing police with:
- Details about the related sex offence(s).
- Name and valid proof of identity.
- Telephone numbers.
- Physical descriptors, including height, weight, build, gender, race, scars, tattoos or other distinguishing features.
- Residential address and details regarding current employment, education, and associations.
- Current photos.
- Vehicle ownership and/or use details, including registration and license numbers.
- Passport information
Offenders are required to update police on these details annually. They must also report within seven days any change of address or name change, as well as any travel away from home of more than a week’s duration.
Penalties for non-compliance include fines of up to $25,000 and prison sentences of up to two years.
Who is Considered a Sex Offender?
Under the Canada’s Criminal Code, more than 25 designated sex offences can result in a sex offender registration order upon conviction. Most of these offences mandate automatic inclusion on the registry upon conviction, though there is judicial discretion with some. Even if not sentenced to prison or jail time for the offense, a conviction can still lead to a sex offender registration order. Youth offenders can only be required to register if convicted and sentenced as an adult for the sexual offence.
Bottom line is that if you are convicted of a sexual offence in Ontario, there is a strong likelihood that you will be required to register as a sex offender. Consider that a criminal conviction for sexual assault results in automatic inclusion on the registry. Sexual assault covers a broad range of activities, including unwanted sexual touching. Thus, a drunken college kid who thinks it might be funny to slap a pretty girl’s behind risks potential sex offender registration if she decides to file charges.
Given the onerous conditions of being a registered sex offender, not to mention potential incarceration, fines, probation, and other sanctions, it is always important to consult with a skilled sexual assault lawyer if charged with a sexual offence.
Convictions Under Which One Can Be Put On the Sex Offender Registry
The number of offences that can lead to a sex offender registry order in Ontario is broad. If the crown can prove intent, charges relating to conspiracy or attempting to commit a sexual offence can also lead to an OSAR order. Sex offence convictions that can result in a sex offender registry order include:
- Sexual assault
- Sexual assault with a weapon
- Sexual assault causing bodily harm
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Invitation to sexual touching
- Sexual exploitation of those ages 14-18
- Sexual exploitation of a person with a disability
- Child pornography
- Accessing child pornography
- Parent or guardian procuring sexual activity
- Online child luring
- Exposure to a person under age 14
- Living on the avails of prostitution of a person under age 18
- Obtaining prostitution of person under age 18
- Bestiality in the presence of a child
Who Can Access the Registry?
Access to OSAR and the national sex offender registry is strictly limited to law enforcement agencies. Police have direct access to the registries 24/7. This provides them with rapid response capabilities in child abductions and sex-related crimes investigations. It also allows them to monitor and easily locate sex offenders within their communities.
Public disclosure of specific sex offender information on OSAR is only allowed under strict protocols if an offender is deemed a significant and imminent threat to the community. Similar disclosures are provided for under the national sex offender registry.
The public disclosure restrictions are believed to contribute to a much higher compliance rate by sexual offenders. This in turn increases the accuracy and integrity of the national and Ontario sex offender registry lists.
Is the Early Termination of a Sexual Offender Registry Order Possible?
Early termination of a sexual offender registry order is possible, but not easy. Even with early termination, an offender’s information remains in the registry database. A termination just means that the offender no longer has to comply with sex offender registry requirements. The only means of expunging personal information from either registry is through an acquittal on appeal or based on a government pardon.
The biggest difference between the Ontario sex offender registry and the national one is that it’s easier to terminate a sexual offender registry order from the latter—though not by much. SOIRA allows offenders to apply for a judicial review after five years for a 10-year order, and after 10 years for a 20-year order. Those subject to a lifetime order can apply for judicial review after 20 years. If unsuccessful, offenders can then petition the court every five years thereafter.
A judge will only grant a termination order if the court “is satisfied that the person has established that the impact on them of continuing an order or an obligation . . . would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest in protecting society [with the help of the offender’s registration information].”
The Ontario Sex Offender Registry does not provide provisions for early terminations except in cases where the offender has received a pardon or a record suspension.