Updated: Here’s the sex offender map Ontario didn’t want you to see
Update, May 14: The map now shows data for both April 2014 and May 2008.
After fighting in court for six years only to get shot down by three unanimous decisions involving a total of 13 judges, Ontario’s corrections ministry gave Global News a database of sex offenders by postal code last week, shortly after a Supreme Court ruling ordered them to do so.
The province claims it doesn’t know, or can’t say, how much that legal fight cost taxpayers.
The ministry initially refused to release the information under an access-to-information request. Over the course of several years, it tried and failed at all possible levels of appeal. Ontario’s information commissioner ruled that the information should be released. So did Ontario’s Superior Court and Court of Appeal.
At each Ontario court hearing the judges ended proceedings after listening to arguments from the government’s lawyer, saying they didn’t need to hear from the other side.
“Three different courts have now sided with my office on this issue, which is a good indicator that we were on the right side of this matter,” Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, said in a press release. “It is truly unfortunate how many years and resources have been wasted on this pursuit.”
“It is unbelievable to me,” Cavoukian told Global News. “Why would they then waste taxpayer dollars to appeal it to the Supreme Court of Canada, knowing that the likelihood of success was very limited, given the previous two decisions, and the fact that we’ve been given deference by the lower courts?
“There was no risk to personal privacy, so privacy was not an issue. There was no public safety issue here.”
Ontario privacy commissioner: “It’s information that the public has a right to know”
Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General used in-house lawyers and says it can’t break out what the six-year case cost taxpayers, said spokesperson Brendan Crawley.
The province argued that publishing the data could lead to identification of registered sex offenders in the community but was never able to show how this was possible. One Woodbridge postal area, for example, has more than 55,000 residents and 20 sex offenders. (In the United States, sex offenders identified by address have sometimes been subject to violent attacks.)
“The Ministry respects the Supreme Court of Canada and is focused on keeping our communities safe as we work to comply with the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s order,” ministry spokesperson Greg Flood said in an e-mailed statement.
“As long as it doesn’t identify individuals, it’s good,” says Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society. “Information, generally, is good. I don’t think you gain anything by not having adequate access to information.”
Ontario’s registry requires people convicted of various sexual offences to register their home address with police for either 10 years or life. Offenders who are pardoned can be taken off the registry. They don’t register while in prison.
In 2009, Ontario’s correctional ministry claimed a 97% compliance rate among offenders required to register.
Update, May 14: The map now shows data for both April 2014 and May 2008.
Over the six-year period:
- Sex offender rates have risen in the Lower Town and Centretown areas of Ottawa
- Rates rose in the west end of Hamilton
- Rates fell in several gentrifying neighbourhoods in the older part of Toronto: the postal codes for Cabbagetown/St. James Town, South Riverdale, Leslieville and the Junction all have fewer registered sex offenders than in 2008.
Registered sex offenders by postal area
- In Toronto, registered sex offenders cluster in the east downtown, roughly bounded by Carlton, Jarvis, the Don Valley Parkway and the Lakeshore. There are smaller pockets in the Junction and Parkdale.
- Most of inner-city Hamilton has high rates of sex offenders, with about 200 living below the Mountain. In 2008, the western part of central Hamilton, along York Boulevard, had southern Ontario’s densest concentration of sex offenders.
- In Ottawa, registered sex offenders concentrate in Vanier, which has 59.
- There are clusters of sex offenders in downtown Kingston, the east end of London (in 2014, southern Ontario’s top neighbourhood for registered sex offenders was in east-central London) and Peterborough.
- Northwestern Ontario has very high rates. A vast stretch from Kenora to Hudson Bay has Ontario’s highest rate of sex offenders – 122 out of a population of 16,347, for a rate of 746 per 100,000 residents.
The data shows sex offenders tend overwhelmingly to settle in low-income areas.
“Most people who are reintegrating back into communities after a period in prison are not particularly wealthy,” Latimer said. “They have difficulty functioning and getting jobs, so they’re lower-income people. A lot of them are getting dumped into homeless shelters when they’re released – it’s not good.”Registered sex offenders and income by neighbourhood »
Registered sex offenders and income by neighbourhood
One of the reasons Ontario gave for withholding the data was that knowing how many sex offenders were living in a neighbourhood might lead to “community unease.” (A Supreme Court judge noted this isn’t a legal ground for withholding data under Ontario’s access-to-information law.)
But sex offenders don’t typically victimize people outside their immediate circles, Latimer says.
“What makes people anxious is stranger sexual assault. People feeling vulnerable walking down the street, or vulnerable because they’re worried about their kids not coming directly home from school, that kind of thing. But most sexual offences occur among people who know each other.”
Less than a quarter of sexual offences involve a victim who is a stranger to the perpetrator, according to a 2001 study. For youth and child victims, that falls to 16%.
And recidivism rates are low: According to the same study, less than 10 per cent of released provincial sex offenders were convicted of a new sexual offence in the three and a half years after release. (Conversely, a 1991 study found about a quarter of people in federal prison for sexual offences had a prior record of other sexual offences.)
Is there more violent crime in neighbourhoods with more registered sex offenders? There are some overlaps seen in this map, made by a Statistics Canada researcher in 2006.Violent crime rates by census tract, 2006 »
Violent crime rates by census tract, 2006
But, as the map below shows, income could also play a factor.Median family income, 2010 »
Median family income, 2010
The impact of having offenders cluster in poor neighbourhoods depends on the kind of support they get once they’re out, Latimer said.
“If they’ve gone into transition housing that’s run by organizations like ours, or other organizations that are supporting the reintegration of people, they will be getting assistance in terms of housing and employment and educational opportunities and so on,” she said.
“But if they’ve defaulted into a poor neighbourhood, like they’re in a shelter or something of that nature, then that doesn’t exactly help.”
Want to work with the data? You can download it here.