You’re a single mom with three young kids and unbeknownst to you, your next-door-neighbour is a convicted pedophile on probation after serving a miniscule prison sentence. Oh yes, he refused treatment while locked up. Don’t you think you’d want to know?
If you lived in the United States you would know, because since 1994 Americans and everybody else, has access to the National Sex Offender Registry operated by the U.S. Department of Justice. A user-friendly site, you just click on the State you want to search, then select a County and presto!…mugshots galore. I checked out our neighbours in Whatcom County, Washington where 59 names, photos and addresses popped up.
So what’s the fuss about Canada Family Action launching their website yesterday at stoppedophiles.ca? What are the civil liberties issues and why was stoppedophiles.ca threatened with lawsuits, as reported in the National Post?
It sounds to me like the usual group of whiners who challenge any activity that supports a law and order perspective. The notion of legal action against these concerned citizens is amusing, since the data collected and listed by stoppedophiles.ca is readily available from many of Canada’s leading news outlets and the website provides readers with their media sources for the information they publish. The site does not print specific addresses, but indicates the city where the offence occurred.
The issue of the civil rights of convicted sex offenders is more complicated with the main concerns focusing on vigilantism and false identification, both issues that have been endlessly debated in the United States.
The United States Supreme Court has examined the laws on sex offender registries in two cases. In Smith v. Doe, Alaska’s highest court held that the retroactive registration of offenders in their public database was punitive and therefore, unconstitutional. The U.S Supreme Court overturned their finding in a 6-3 decision and upheld the Alaska law, reasoning that the law was civil, not criminal and not punitive.
In Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, America’s highest court overturned the Connecticut Appeal Court who found that the public disclosure required by the Connecticut law was unconstitutional. The Justices held that injury to reputation in and of itself, even if defamatory, was not a deprivation of liberty and was not unconstitutional.
If Canada Family Action continues to obtain their data from reliable major media outlets, it is unlikely they will fall afoul of legitimate privacy issues. Vigilantism is a rare event in Canada but stoppedophiles.ca recognizes the potential problem and displays a disclaimer warning their readers against it.
In my view, stoppedophiles.ca is a helpful compilation of information gleaned from major media sources, gathered by proactive citizens who place a greater value on protecting the vulnerable than coddling criminals.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang