A new federal law in the United States now requires convicted sex offenders in that country to turn over their passports for ones with a unique identifier branding them as such.
In early November, the U.S. State Department began to revoke the passports of registered child sex offenders.
It also announced that other offenders would still be permitted to travel with their existing passports until they received a notification in the mail from the department saying their travel documents were invalidated.
When the offender then reapplies for a new passport, it will be branded on the back inside cover with the following message: “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to” the applicable U.S. law.
The changes come in response to last year’s “Megan’s Law” in the U.S., aimed at cracking down on child sex tourism and child exploitation.
Global News spoke to several travellers outside Saskatoon’s John G. Diefenbaker International Airport who applauded the change.
“They shouldn’t have a passport at all. It should be revoked and they shouldn’t be allowed to travel,” one traveller said.
“They have to discriminate against people like that because those people shouldn’t be out in society to begin with.”
Not everyone on this side of the border agrees with singling offenders out, saying the changes may do more harm than good.
“It strikes me that this measure is more geared toward a further deterrent for offending and further punishment than it is actually practically assisting people at the border,” said Saskatoon criminal defence attorney Brian Pfefferle.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), most criminal convictions, felony or misdemeanor offences make visitors inadmissible to Canada.
“All persons seeking entry to Canada must present to CBSA and may be subject to a more in-depth exam. All persons must demonstrate they meet the requirements to enter and/or stay in Canada. Admissibility is decided on a case-by-case basis and based on the information made available to the border services officer at the time of entry.”
In a statement to Global News, CBSA would not speculate on the move by the U.S. to target sex offenders’ passports or whether something similar might be considered on this side of the border.
“I don’t think we should be looking to our American neighbours … when in my view we have a more effective justice system in Canada already,” Pfefferle said.
He said publicly shaming offenders may not be the best option in the long run.
“Any time you label someone, it has an effect on their ability to be reintegrated into society, and society benefits from people being able to do their time and (then) go back into the community and contribute in a positive way.”
While State Department officials say they aren’t aware of any other group of felons who might be subjected to this type of identifier on their passport, Pfefferle argues it’s a slippery slope. If changes are being made to criminals’ passports, he says, it should be for all convictions or none at all.
“What makes one offence worse than another? A repeated drunk driver is likely more dangerous than an individual who has one sexual assault conviction on their record,” he said.