Liberals propose changes to Canada’s sex offender registry in response to Supreme Court decision

The federal government has tabled legislation that, if passed, would make changes to Canada’s sex offender registry to specify which categories of sexual offenders have to be added to the national tracking system, while giving judges discretion to exempt those who do not pose a risk of reoffending.

The proposed changes to current law comes in response to an October 2022 ruling from the Supreme Court that deemed it unconstitutional to require automatic registration of all people convicted of sexual crimes and an overreach to require mandatory lifetime registration for individuals convicted of more than one sexual offence in the same case.

Canada’s top court struck down related Criminal Code provisions, giving Parliament one year to respond to the decision, prompting the federal government to go back to the drafting table or risk courts losing the ability to order offenders to register after October 2023. While the national sex offender registry itself was enacted in 2004 with prosecutorial and judicial discretion, the amendments that the Supreme Court took issue with were brought in under the Conservatives in 2011.

Framed by the Liberals as an effort to strengthen Canada’s national sex offender registry, Bill S-12 proposes to evolve the registry requirements to remain Charter-compliant by:

  • Adjusting the registration criteria for sexual offenders so serious child sexual offenders and repeat sexual offenders are registered automatically;
  • Requiring all other sexual offenders to register if they cannot demonstrate that they pose no risk to the community; and
  • Adding offences including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and extortion to the list of offences that may result in offenders being placed on the national sex offender registry.

Bill S-12 was presented in the Senate by the government’s point person, Sen. Marc Gold on Wednesday. The legislation will move first through the Senate and then to the House, proposing amendments to the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, and the International Transfer of Offenders Act. 

Included in this piece of legislation are also proposals to gives survivors more options around how their cases are handled, building on recommendations made by the House Justice Committee.

According to the government, these proposed changes include:

  • Requiring judges to ask prosecutors if they have sought a victim’s input on whether to impose a publication ban as well as related modernizations to the publication ban regime; and
  • Requiring judges to ask if victims want to receive information about their case after sentencing, have their wishes entered into proceeding records, and facilitate that information-sharing through federal corrections agencies.

“Sexual offences are amongst the most heinous and degrading forms of violence. They have devastating impacts on survivors, who are disproportionately women and girls,” said Justice Minister David Lametti, marking the introduction of this bill on Parliament Hill on Wednesday. “Police must have the tools they need to investigate and bring sexual offenders to justice.”

Appearing alongside Lametti, Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien spoke about what the Liberals view Bill S-12’s publication ban changes will mean for “centring the needs” and voices of sexual assault survivors.

“In the context of sexual assault, it means that in most cases, it is an offence to publish, broadcast, or send any information that can identify the victim or witness in the case, even if survivors give permission to do so,” Ien said. “You don’t need a law degree to understand… that yes, the ban is intended to safeguard victims and the people around them. But in reality, it can sometimes do the exact opposite. The legislation put forward today… will ensure that survivors have a say… It gives them the control to tell their own stories and to do so in their own words.”

The justice minister said he hopes all parties will be on-side with seeing this “important legislation” move quickly through both chambers due to the court-imposed deadline. “Canadians expect us to work together and quickly to preserve the national sex offender registry,” he said. 

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