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September 10, 2001

Divorce law, sex offenders registry on agenda

Justice ministers meet

Mike Blanchfield
Ottawa Citizen
National Post

HALIFAX - Justice Minster Anne McLellan can expect a stormy welcome from her provincial counterparts when she arrives on Nova Scotia's rugged southwestern coast this week for their annual gathering.

The provinces' patience has worn thin over the federal government's reluctance to establish a national child sex offender registry. Last week, Mike Harris, the Ontario Premier, said his province would pay for a national registry if the federal government would not. Manitoba's Justice Minister promised to bring a resolution to the table tomorrow demanding immediate action by the federal government.

The annual gathering of the 10 provincial and three territorial justice ministers or attorneys-general will also examine a host of other legal issues such as the proposed new Divorce Act, policing pedophiles on the Internet, and a law to ban electronic voyeurism.

However, the sex offender registry is expected to dominate.

Provincial lawmakers are determined to use their access to federal officials to wring a commitment for the registry, despite fact the federal government poured cold water on the idea at last month's premier's conference in Victoria, B.C. The premiers walked away from the meeting more committed than ever to pursuing a registry.

"I'm puzzled. I don't know why that reluctance exists," David Young, the Attorney-General of Ontario, said. "I'm hopeful that at this federal-provincial-territorial conference they will either explain their reluctance, or alternatively agree to co-operate with a national sex offender registry."

Mr. Young said Mr. Harris's offer for Ontario to run a national registry was not grandstanding.

"All the provinces support this initiative," said Mr. Young. "If Manitoba wants to jump in, that's great. This isn't a matter of taking ownership of an issue. It's a matter of doing the right thing."

Ontario started its own sex offender registry last spring, but it is useless outside the province. The provinces want an integrated system of information sharing that would connect police across the country. Ontario's legislation, called Christopher's Law, was named after 11-year-old Christopher Stephenson, who was killed in 1988 by a convicted pedophile out on statutory release.

British Columbia recently passed a similar law and Alberta lawmakers have taken the first steps toward establishing their own. The other provinces have not decided whether to follow suit.

Canada's police forces share information over the Canadian Police Information Centre, CPIC.

Proponents of the registry say CPIC doesn't do enough. It is already overburdened and going through a $115-million overhaul to stop its frequent crashes.

The new national registry would be an upgraded form of CPIC, containing information on where convicted pedophiles live and have better means of searching for information. It would enable police to swiftly compile lists of suspects after an attack or abduction.

In an open letter to Ms. McLellan, released Saturday, Mr. Young also urged the federal justice minister to close loopholes in the government's proposed DNA legislation, saying it doesn't go far enough.

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