The McGuinty government is doing everything it can to keep Ontario communities safe from high-risk offenders. For some time, Ontario has been asking the federal government to change the legislation that covers dangerous and long-term offenders, as well as those offenders subject to recognizance orders.
The dangerous offender provisions of the federal Criminal Code were passed in 1977. These provisions allow a judge to impose indeterminate sentences on offenders who have committed serious personal injury offences and have the potential for re-offending. The Criminal Code was amended in 1997 to include a new provision for "long-term offenders," offenders whose risk of re-offending can be controlled in the community.
Federal law also allows police to impose recognizance orders on offenders if there are reasonable grounds to expect that an offender may commit a serious personal injury offence. Serious personal injury offences involve the use or attempted use of violence, conduct that endangers the life, safety and psychological well being of another person, or is likely to do so, as well as sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault. Recognizance orders impose restrictions that are valid for up to one year and can be renewed.
Federal statistics indicate that across Canada:
- 82 per cent of dangerous offenders and 76 per cent of long-term offenders are sexual offenders
- 80 per cent of dangerous offender cases and 75 per cent of long-term offender cases involve three or more victims
- 49 per cent of dangerous offenders and 61 per cent of long-term offenders have victimized children.
Three provincial initiatives will help protect Ontarians from high-risk offenders:
High-Risk Offender Prosecution Teams
Working in every region of the province, centrally-coordinated and specialized teams of prosecutors, victim service workers, case presentation specialists and support staff will advise police during investigations, streamlining the complex high-risk offender designation process.
These teams will enhance the prosecution and management of high-risk offenders by:
- Providing advice to police and enhancing the consistency of investigative decisions
- Ensuring that evidence and submissions are of the highest quality
- Reducing the amount of time it takes after a conviction to start a dangerous or long-term offender hearing
- Supporting victims throughout court proceedings and facilitating safety planning for victims at risk
- Improving coordination between members of the justice system.
These teams will include 21 staff, including eight prosecutors, and cost approximately $2.6 million per year once established.
This funding includes increasing financial assistance to SupportLink by $200,000 per year. SupportLink provides victims at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking with comprehensive safety planning, including wireless phones pre-programmed to 9-1-1. Launched as a pilot in 1998 in Ottawa and Barrie, SupportLink currently operates in 20 locations across the province and receives $476,000 annually from the Ministry of the Attorney General. In 2006-2007, the program served 1,875 new clients.
High-Risk Offenders Roundtable
The High-Risk Offenders Roundtable will bring together the best and brightest minds on the issue of high-risk offenders to explore options for increasing the public's protection. The roundtable will include representatives from justice policy, law enforcement, corrections, victim services, mental health fields and others. The roundtable will help inform Ontario's position at meetings of the federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers, beginning as early as November 2007.
Repeat Offender Enforcement Strategy
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is implementing a two-part Repeat Offender Enforcement Strategy to manage high-risk offenders:
- A program with six new officers dedicated to monitoring high-risk offenders after they have been released. The team will be based in Toronto but will be available to communities across the province.
- Nine new officers will help improve its ability to gather intelligence within correctional institutions.
Over the next two years, this $2.4 million strategy aims to keep high-risk offenders incarcerated longer where appropriate, and help to ensure that those who are released into the community are effectively monitored.