The CBA calls for major changes to Bill C-26 on child predators

  • February 17, 2015

Ottawa – Children must be protected from sex offenders. But the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) says proposed federal legislation on child predators will not do that effectively. In fact, it may make some things worse.

The CBA proposes that the legislation be refocused, particularly with regard to sex offender registries and mandatory consecutive sentences.

The bill would, among other things, increase registry requirements and create a publicly accessible database of high-risk child sex offenders. It would also force judges to impose mandatory consecutive sentences on people found guilty of more than one sexual offence against a child, in certain circumstances.

The CBA argues that this is the wrong approach. “Canadian experience shows that sexual offender registries, as currently administered, have not been effective,” says Paul Calarco, member of the CBA’s National Criminal Justice Section. “Expanding their scope or requiring more information to be gathered won’t better protect children.”

The CBA proposes instead that registries be focused on those sexual offenders who present an ongoing potential danger. That way, precious resources won’t be spent on people who are very unlikely to re-offend.

The CBA also has serious concerns about the proposal for making registry information public. Paul Calarco says public registries would likely drive offenders underground and away from treatment – actually increasing risk to the public.

Experience shows that public registries increase the likelihood of vigilante action, encouraging criminal behaviour and often putting innocent people at risk.

As for sentencing, the CBA notes that forcing judges to impose mandatory consecutive sentences will not advance deterrence or prevent crimes, nor will it target the most dangerous offenders. And it risks having a disproportionate impact on groups already overrepresented in custody, including minority groups such as aboriginals.

The CBA has consistently objected to mandatory sentencing provisions as they subvert important aspects of Canada’s justice system, including the power of a judge to exercise discretion and tailor the sentence to the offender and the offence at hand.

By piling mandatory minimum sentences on top of one another, CBA cautions the government that it is likely to confront a constitutional challenge of the bill.

“When the goal is protecting children from sex predators, it seems especially incumbent on the government to do what’s most likely to be both effective and constitutionally sound, based on evidence and past experience,” says Paul Calarco.

“In our view Bill C-26, as worded, is unlikely to enhance public safety and may even encourage vigilantism. We therefore suggest it be carefully reconsidered and appropriate amendments made.”

Paul Calarco appeared before the Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on February 16, 2015.

The CBA submission is available online.

The CBA is dedicated to support for the rule of law, and improvement in the law and the administration of justice. Some 36,000 lawyers, notaries in Quebec, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.