For the first time last January, the RCMP helped stop a convicted child sex offender from entering another country. The move was possible thanks to updates to the act governing sex offenders — and good collaboration.
One day before the scheduled flight departed from Toronto to Sosua Bay, Dominican Republic, a known destination for transnational child sex offenders, officers at the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) and High Risk Sex Offender Program (HRSOP) determined the man was a high risk to reoffend, says the officer in charge of the unit, RCMP S/Sgt. Alain Gagnon.
In an effort to keep kids overseas safe, they notified the Dominican Republic authorities.
Gagnon says that when the offender touched down in the Dominican Republic, he was denied entry into the country and returned to Canada on the same plane.
"They could have just said 'Thank you, let the guy come in' or they could have watched him to see if he stays where he said he would be staying," says Cpl. David Elliott, who oversaw the offender's risk assessment. "But, thankfully, they accepted our assessment."
Elliott is in charge of operations at HRSOP. The program was created in 2016 to address amendments to the National Sex Offender Information Registration Act.
The act helps police prevent and investigate sex crimes by requiring convicted sex offenders to provide certain information to police at least once a year, and to be added to the sex offender registry.
As of January 2019, there are more than 51,000 registered sex offenders in the database, according to the latest numbers gathered by the RCMP, which maintains the registry. Of those, approximately 73 per cent are child sex offenders.
Once an offender makes the registry, they're on it for life. Depending on their sentence, they must check in with police in person at least once a year for either 10 years, 20 years or life. Up to 80 pieces of information are entered into a database that's available to Canadian and international law enforcement agencies.
Under the amended legislation, registered child sex offenders must also report their driver's licence and passport information, and travel plans. Failing to comply could mean going back to prison.
"If they're not reporting or reporting last minute, it's a red flag for us because it shows a mindset and indicates risk," says Elliott.
Thanks to the updates to the act, if the unit determines an offender is high risk they may now share the information with their partner agencies including other police services — in Canada or abroad — and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Chad Barter is an intelligence officer with the CBSA. For the past two years, he's been embedded with the RCMP in Ottawa, giving investigators relevant traveller information upon request.
As part of his partnership with the RCMP, Barter may disclose a myriad of information that's normally protected under the Privacy Act. It includes air travel history, flight seat number, weight and number of luggage, hotel reservations and possible travel associates.
In the case from January, Barter discovered that the offender frequently travelled to child sexual exploitation hotspots.
This, combined with the results of the recidivism risk assessment, was critical in Elliott's decision to flag him as high-risk.
At the request of the RCMP, Barter created an electronic message, called a lookout, which shows up on screen when someone goes through customs upon re-entering Canada. Each time, they will be taken to a room for questioning. Their belongings, including electronics, will also be searched for child exploitation images or other indicators of illegal activities while they were overseas, says Barter.
"If they operate anything like Canada, he'll never enter the Dominican Republic again," says Barter.
With between 2,500 and 3,500 new names added to the registry each year, Gagnon says it's all the more important to continue working with partners, such as the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, to keep the registry accurate and up to date for officers investigating sex crimes.
"This is one of the most rewarding jobs I've had in my 29 years in the RCMP," says Gagnon. "What we do makes a real difference."