REGINA, Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan is joining Alberta and Manitoba in developing a provincial Web site that gives the public details about high-risk criminals living in their communities, and the province’s justice minister wants the rest of Canada to follow suit.
While many support the idea as something that allows people to take an active role in their personal safety, critics feel such a public disclosure could lead to vigilantism.
In April, 20-year-old Stephen Marshall of Nova Scotia killed two registered sex offenders in Maine, before taking his own life. Investigators believe Marshall used Maine’s publicly available registered sex offender Web site to hunt down his two victims.
The Maine Legislature is scrutinizing the state’s sex-offender Web site to see whether it should be modified to avoid events like last spring’s.
In Saskatchewan, Justice Minister Frank Quennell said he’ll bring the idea of a high-risk offender Web site up at a meeting of justice ministers in Newfoundland this week.
“As we know very well in Saskatchewan now, high-risk offenders travel from one jurisdiction to another,” Quennell said. “We see the value of having these types of Web sites across the country and having cooperation among police services so that provinces become aware as people move.”
Getting tough on habitual offenders, especially sexual ones, is a movement that has gained strength on the Prairies over the summer. Public outrage was triggered by the case of a convicted pedophile who allegedly kidnapped a 10-year-old boy in Saskatchewan while on the run with a teen he allegedly had taken in Manitoba.
Peter Whitmore now stands charged with 15 different offenses, including three counts of sexual assault causing bodily harm.
Whitmore, who had lived previously in Ontario and British Columbia, had been the subject of a public warning by police when he moved to Alberta. That’s where he seemed to disappear from authorities.
Alberta was the first province to create a high-risk offender Web site in 2002, and Manitoba followed.
Quennell said that since police already put out public warnings about high-risk offenders when they are released from custody, it makes sense that the information be available on the Internet.
“It would be providing the same information that is now provided and just providing it in another forum, recognizing that we are now in the 21st century,” he said.
Quennell’s comments were welcomed by the mayor of the Saskatchewan town from which the boy went missing.
Community members have started a petition drive since the incident. One of the things they’re calling for is the compulsory public notification on movements of convicted pedophiles.
“It would be a step in the right direction” said Mayor Malcolm Green. “If you have knowledge that they are around, at least you have a fighting chance.”
Not everyone agrees.
Putting criminals on the Internet does little to protect the public, while it can do irreparable harm to the individual involved, said Stephen Jenuth, a Calgary lawyer who has defended high-risk offenders and is president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association.
“The high-risk offender Web site strikes me as just a kick at somebody who is down,” Jenuth said. “The notification, in my experience, makes it more difficult to integrate into being crime-free to the extent of making it almost impossible.”
The idea of a federal Web site is worth discussing, said Steve Sullivan, president of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.
The challenge will be getting different jurisdictions to agree on what type of offender qualifies for such a disclosure.
“It probably is a lot more difficult than it might sound at first blush,” Sullivan said. “I think the challenge will be getting the provinces to agree who should go on and when and what the processes should be.”