The Canadian government is currently debating making several revisions to the country’s National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR).
The government faces an October 28th deadline to enact revisions or risk the Canadian judiciary’s ability to add newly convicted sex offenders to the registry. Canada’s Supreme Court imposed the deadline last year after ruling that two of NSOR’s provisions are unconstitutional.
Canadian Sex Offender Registry Background
NSOR was established under the 2004 Sex Offender Information Registration Act, on recommendations provided by an inquest held in 1992 after an 11-year-old Brampton, Ontario boy was kidnapped, sexually assaulted over a 24-hour period, and killed by a convicted pedophile. The inquest was held because of the fact that the suspect was on statutory release, had an extensive record of sexually assaulting children, and had not yet been declared a dangerous offender.
Among the 71 recommendations made by the inquest was the need to create a national registry of convicted, high-risk sex offenders in order to provide law enforcement officers with rapid access to their location and identifying information. This inquest determined that a sex offender registry may have saved the Brampton victim’s life, as police may have been able to question the offender while the boy was still alive.
How NSOR Works
NSOR is a database of convicted sex offenders that any Canadian law enforcement agency can access to prevent and investigate sexual offences. Managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the database is publicly unavailable, and while there have been petitions and some push by provinces to open the data to the public, such access is not currently part of the legislation undergoing Parliamentary debate.
Police agencies can access this registry to identify potential suspects when investigating sexual crimes. The database also makes it easier for police to monitor convicted sex offenders in order to ensure that they are complying with court-ordered mandates.
NSOR Reporting Requirements
Those ordered by the courts to register under NSOR must report to their local police jurisdiction within seven days of completing any imprisonment, or after conviction if not sentenced to incarceration.
When registering, convicted offenders must provide police with more than 80 pieces of personal information, including:
- Residential address
- Other addresses, if applicable
- Telephone numbers
- Copies of valid identification
- Physical description of height, weight, build, gender, race, scars, tattoos, and distinguishing features
- Details about the commission of the sexual offence they were convicted of
- Current photographs
- Employment and/or education details
- Vehicle ownership and use details, including registration and license numbers
- Passport information
NSOR registrants must report to the police annually to reconfirm this information, or provide revised information accordingly. They must also notify police within seven days if they move or make other significant lifetime changes.
Offenders must comply with NSOR reporting requirements for a minimum of 10 years, and are currently required to remain registered for life. Some offenders must also pre-report any travel away from home that lasts more than one week.
Failure to comply with NSOR reporting requirements carries penalties of up to a $10,000 fine or two years’ imprisonment. For their part, police have the right to visit NSOR registrants at any time to confirm that they are still living at their reported address.
Who is Required to Register Under NSOR?
Canada’s Criminal Code designates 27 sex offences that require mandatory NSOR registration upon conviction. These include all sexual crimes involving children, all forms of sexual assault, sexual interference, sexual exploitation, bestiality, and incest.
The Criminal Code also allows judges to order NSOR registration for those convicted of 17 other criminal offences if the crime was committed in relation to any of these aforementioned 27 designated sexual offences – for example, if you are convicted of voyeurism and the prosecution proves you were planning to commit sexual assault or another sex-related crime, the judge can order registration.
Impending Revisions to NSOR
In the October 2022 decision R. v. Ndhlovu 2022 SCC 38, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that two Criminal Code provisions requiring “mandatory” NSOR registration violate Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that mandatory registration based on violation and mandatory lifetime registration are both unconstitutional.
The court’s ruling immediately nullified the mandatory lifetime NSOR registration requirement, providing the government with a year to revise how courts should determine which offenders should be required to register. In response, the government introduced and is currently debating Bill S-12 – along with bringing NSOR in compliance with the Charter, the legislation includes several amendments designed to “improve the operation and effectiveness of the sex offender registration regime.”
In order to address the currently unconstitutional elements of NSOR, the bill limits mandatory registration to include only two circumstances: sexual offences against a child, and repeat sexual offences by an offender previously convicted of a designated crime subject to NSOR registration.
In all other situations, judges would have the discretion to decide whether or not an offender must register. Judges would also have the option to order mandatory lifetime registration in cases where previously convicted offenders demonstrate a pattern that suggests an increased risk of re-offending. Other measures in the bill include:
- Additional designated offences, including non-consensual distribution of intimate images, that may subject an offender to NSOR.
- Enhanced notification obligations of NSOR registrants planning to travel.
- New penalties for providing misleading information in NSOR reporting.
- Greater ease in interagency NSOR information disclosure to verify sex offender compliance with reporting obligations.
NSOR Inclusion Will Hinge on Judicial Discretion
With broad bipartisan support, the government is in fact expected to enact Bill S-12 into law, and besides the continued mandatory sex offender registry for those convicted of sexual offences against children and repeat offenders, the decision to add a convicted sexual offender will rest with the sentencing judge.
Supporters of these NSOR revisions believe this makes the sex offender registry fairer, as not every convicted sex offender is at risk of re-offending.
Anyone facing criminal sexual offence charges in Ontario, regardless of the specifics of their case, should secure the services of a skilled criminal defence lawyer to help them attain a better outcome. At Vilkhov Law, our team of experienced legal professionals is here for you. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation about your case.