Reasonable Enforcement Aids or More of the Same Excessive Punishment with Potentially Drastic Consequences?
The government of the day has recently rolled out several pieces of “get tough on crime“ legislation that, once again fail to address criminal law issues in a realistic or humane fashion.
For starters, our Justice Minister has decided to proceed with new reporting and database requirements concerning sex offenders and those convicted of crimes involving child pornography.
Sex Offender Registry – Increased Reporting Proposed
While some of the reporting conditions for the later category of offences seem reasonable at first glance and hopefully will have the effect of improving enforcement capabilities, the increased reporting and notification of the movements and location of all persons registered under the National Sex Offender Registry, whether they involve crimes against children or not, may well result in people found guilty of even minor sexual offences subjected to ongoing restrictions on their liberties and never-ending official denunciation. This inevitably will make them feel like they have to continue paying for their crimes forever, regardless of the sentence they will already have served.
Coupled with the devastating effects of the imposition of a criminal record on employment and the increased obstacles imposed on suspending such records through the National Parole Board, these changes will result in the creation of a class of citizens who are effectively treated as social outcasts with minimal prospects of employment and the resumption of a normal life.
As for offences involving child pornography, presumably including everything from possession to making and distribution, the Justice Minister proposes the creation of a database of high-risk offenders that will include the names and identification information of all such persons and be available on-line to the public at large.
Should the public have unrestricted access?
While police access to such information in general seems like an appropriate enforcement technique, the unrestricted public access to this information has the potential of leading to episodes of drastic vigilante justice, ultimately creating a much larger danger to the police and seriously threatens to undermine the public`s confidence in the entire justice system.
The fact that the government is including a provision in the proposed legislation to allow an appeal of a decision to have his or her name included in the high-risk sexual offences registry imposes a further burden on an individual whose financial resources may well have been depleted at that point. In addition, such legislation may likely be considered a violation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by a criminal court in which the issue is raised.
While the government is rightly concerned with the evils of sex offences against children, pointing out that these crimes have increased 3% in each of the last two years, this statistic conveniently ignores the fact that police detection and enforcement techniques have likely increased at a much greater rate over that same period. The vast majority of these alleged crimes are committed via the internet and law enforcement agencies having become increasingly more sophisticated and pro-active in obtaining search warrants and seizing the computers involved.
In cases such as these, it is becoming increasingly more important for experienced criminal defence counsel to become involved in the legal process at the outset, that is to say, when an individual first becomes aware that criminal charges of this nature are being contemplated.