Okalik to “look into” sex offender registry
Public cannot access information contained in national database
Public outrage over the recent release of an unrepentant child rapist in Iqaluit overlooks one important fact: even if Jason Hikoalok left town, there are plenty more like him.
Yet the names and faces of other men who have sexually abused children remain unknown to many parents, teachers and youth workers in the city.
A registry of dangerous sexual offenders, accessible to the public, could be one solution. In Alberta and Manitoba, residents may visit a government web site and view the names and faces of sexual abusers and other violent offenders who police believe pose a high risk.
Such a registry for Nunavut would be welcomed by Amy Elgersma, youth programmer for the City of Iqaluit.
She regularly sees about 60 children who drop by the city youth centre each week. Each child has seen posters around town that feature Hikoalok’s mugshot, and “they’re really scared,” she said.
She’d like to see the photos of all of Iqaluit’s dangerous sexual offenders collected into a book, so that children know which adults to avoid.
Nunavut’s premier and justice minister, Paul Okalik, said such a public registry has never been considered for the territory.
“I don’t know. I’ll look into it. I’ll ask my staff to look into it,” Okalik said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the case has become a Nunavut-wide issue.
At Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s annual general meeting in Iqaluit last week, delegates voted, after a lengthy discussion, in favour of a resolution that calls on Corrections Canada and the RCMP to ensure that offenders are rehabilitated before they are released, and to provide for better programs for them in the communities.
“We all feel for offenders. But I think we also have to think about the victims and to protect them,” said Raymond Kayasark, a Kitikmeot delegate who was one of many, from all regions of Nunavut, who spoke on the issue.
As it stands, Hikoalok’s is probably the only case where RCMP in Nunavut have issued a public warning following the release of a dangerous offender.
While police across the country maintain the National Sex Offender Registry, the information it contains remains a secret to the public.
Iqaluit RCMP can’t even reveal the number of sex offenders found in Iqaluit, or across the territory, who are listed in the registry. Officers can only request information on specific offenders, and those requests must be approved by a national sex offender coordinator.
No statistics exist in Nunavut on the number of sexual assaults against children, either.
But in general, sexual assaults in Nunavut are more than 12 times the national average, according to a study conducted this October by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. That study reports in 2005, 470 people in Nunavut were charged with some form of sexual assault.
Public registries for sex offenders remain controversial, because they must balance the public’s right to protect itself against the
privacy rights of convicted persons who have already served a criminal sentence.
Another worry is that public sex offender registries could encourage vigilantism – when people decide to take justice into their own hands and confront a released sexual offender violently.
As well, most sexual abusers aren’t strangers. Usually, they’re relatives of their victims, or friends of the family. And in many cases, the abuse is never reported.
For these and other reasons, some are skeptical such a registry would help.
Chris Debicki, a legal aid lawyer who defended Hikoalok when RCMP placed the 26-year-old under custody, said what’s really needed is better counselling and other resources for sexual offenders, to ensure these men don’t re-offend, and allow them to reintegrate into society.
“I’ve never seen a serious sex abuser who hasn’t been abused himself,” he said.
When sexual offenders are released from custody, they need help to get on with their lives, he said.
Bonnie Tulloch from Justice Canada agrees that specific programming for sexual offenders, and release plans that slowly integrate an offender back into the community, are what’s needed most in Nunavut.
With the rushed release by Corrections Canada of Hikoalok, who has no home and no job, “we’re setting him up for failure,” she said.