Canada's sex offender legislation: 'tough on crime', short on smarts!

Current Environment


Few issues cause as much emotional opinion as sexual abuse and the treatment of the abusers. Discussions in the media and in the political arena are emotionally laden and even legislation often seems driven by serious single cases of sexual offending (Schmucker). The current push for legislative change by the conservative government in Canada is no exception. Certain politicians have introduced legislation following the emotional furor resulting solely from the incidents of an individual’s like Graham James, with little or no consideration of the ramifications to community safety. To make matter worse Mr. Harper has linked this issue to Karla Homolka, who was convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of three Ontario schoolgirls, letting the public know that she would be eligible for a pardon later this year. Mr. Harper hopes to push through the legislation quickly to prevent Karla Homolka from receiving a pardon, though conveniently Mr. Harper failed to mention that the only reason Karla Homolka is eligible, and is not currently spending the rest of her life in prison, where she rightfully belongs, is thanks to a plea bargain she made in 1993 and that plea bargain was necessary only because police investigators failed to find crucial videotape evidence in her case. The fact that Karla Homolka is now eligible for a pardon is not a failing of the Canadian system of pardons but a failing of the Canadian Judicial system. It’s obvious that Mr. Harper hopes that by focusing on a few individuals, whom all Canadians despise, Canadians will allow the Conservatives carte blanch to pass any laws.

Liberal MP Mark Holland, his party’s public safety critic, accurately stated, of the conservatives that “they’re just tossing out a solution and telling us we’re not allowed to look at it or ask any questions, we’ve just got to swallow it.”

It is the responsibility of lawmakers - through both rigorous empirical evaluation and the sharing of experiential knowledge - to identify practices and policies that work to achieve goals of public safety and those that impede such goals. This paper shall focus on the current body of research, including that conducted by Canadian governmental departments, which confirm that proposed changes to the pardon system is both gratuitous and counter-productive.