Sex offender support program in limbo

REGINA – He’s an open book now, but it took some time to get there.

“My first offense was illegal use of firearms and raping a 68-year old woman,” said Tom, a registered sex offender living in Regina.

Tom has spent 34 years in prison. His long list of crimes also includes armed robberies and aggravated sexual assault.

He has come to terms with his past with help from Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA), a group that provides a new community for offenders to answer to.

“For a lot of offenders, trust is a big issue,” Tom said. “When you get to work with people from CoSA, as you work with them you learn to trust them.”

The volunteer-driven organization will lose its federal funding by the end of March, which is a worry for more than just the offenders taking part.

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“It re-integrates the person into society, and equally important, it’s for the safety of community,” said Otto Driedger, chair of CoSA’s South Saskatchewan branch.

Nationwide, CoSA was banking on $2.2-million from the federal government to fund 18 branches. Critics point to a much larger total, $7.5-million, that is being spent on a Public Safety Canada evaluation of CoSA.

The results aren’t expected for months.

“It’s a case of very bad fiscal management,” said Wascana Liberal MP Ralph Goodale. “(It) also undermines public safety and public security. Programs like this keep people safe.”

In southern Saskatchewan, CoSA has helped 25 sexual or violent offenders since 2001 – only one has re-offended in that time.

Several studies show CoSA’s theme of restorative justice works to rehabilitate.

“One does not do that by punishment, by rejecting them and getting them alienated by society, because it’s much more likely they’ll get back into offending,” said Driedger.

Tom hasn’t gone down that road in years. He’s now training to volunteer with CoSA himself, coming full circle like so many others.

“All us offenders can thank CoSA for that,” he said. “Otherwise, who knows where we would be?”

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Correctional Service Canada said in a statement Monday that a large portion of the program’s activity falls outside its mandate, and that CSC is not the majority funding source for most CoSA projects.

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