Alberta Appeal Court Ruling Confirms Automatic Registration for Convicted Sex Offenders

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Alberta’s highest court has ruled that automatically adding the names of sex offenders to a national sex offender registry for life does not violate the offender’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Alberta Court of Appeal’s split decision held that the current federal law requiring the mandatory placement of those convicted of more than one sex offence to the national sex offender registry is constitutional.  However, given the 2-1 ruling on appeal, Eugen Ndhlovu has the right to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

THE HISTORY AND THE COURT OF APPEAL DECISION

Last fall, the Alberta appeal court heard submissions about whether a judge should have the discretion to place an offender on Canada’s sex offender registry.  The court also heard submissions from counsel regarding whether or not placing an offender with more than one sexual offence conviction on the sex offender registry is a violation of his/her Charter rights.

In 2011, Eugen Ndhlovu (“Ndhlovu”) attended a party where he sexually touched two women.  Ndhlovu pled guilty to two counts of sexual assault and was given a six-month jail sentence and three years probation.  The sentencing judge found Ndhlovu to be remorseful and considered to be at a low risk of reoffending.  Ndhlovu was to be automatically placed on the sex offender registry for life according to sections 490.012 and 490.013(2.1) of the Criminal Code .  However, the sentencing judge found that the legislation was “overbroad and grossly disproportionate” and violated Ndhlovu’s Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person.  The sentencing judge also proceeded to strike down these sections of the Criminal Code as she determined they could not be saved under section 1 of the Charter.

Alberta’s Crown prosecutor disagreed with this decision and launched an appeal arguing that the Criminal Code sections are not overbroad, that Parliament is entitled to drawn an inference that multiple convictions increase the risk of re-offending, and that the reporting requirements for the national sex offender registry are not onerous or invasive.

Ndhlovu’s lawyer argued that it is not appropriate to place every offender with more than one sexual offence conviction on the national registry and that the court should be given the right to weigh the risk to public safety with the individual’s right to liberty.

Two of the three judges on the Court of Appeal panel found that the sentencing judge erred in finding that Ndhlovu had established a deprivation of his rights under section 7 of the Charter to life, liberty or security of the person and that the sections of the Criminal Code in question was constitutionally valid.  Therefore, the appeal court held that Ndhlovu’s Charter rights were not breached, the finding that sections 490.012 and 490.013(2.1) were of not force and effect was to be set aside, and Ndhlovu was required to be registered and report under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act (“SOIRA”).

WHAT IS CANADA’S NATIONAL SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY?

Canadian courts have required those convicted of designated sex related crimes to be registered in the National Sex Offender Registry (“Registry”) since 2004.  However, unlike the United States, the Canadian Registry is not designed for use by the public. 

The National Sex Offender Registry is a registration system for sex offenders who have been convicted of designated sex crimes and ordered by the courts to report to the police annually. The Registry is maintained by the RCMP and is available to all Canadian police agencies.  The purpose of the database is to provide police services with valuable information that will increase their capacity to investigate and prevent crimes of a sexual nature. 

In Canada, a person convicted of a designated offence must be placed on the Registry.  Designated offences are listed in section 490.011(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which include the following sex crimes:

  • Sexual assault;
  • Sexual interference;
  • Invitation to sexual touching;
  • Sexual exploitation;
  • Incest;
  • Bestiality;
  • Child pornography (making, possession, distribution);
  • Parent or guardian procuring sexual activity;
  • Aggravated sexual assault;
  • Sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm;
  • Indecent exposure;
  • Select offences where it can be proven that the offence was committed with the intent to commit an offence of a sexual nature.

The SOIRA does not apply to a young person convicted of a designated sexual offence unless the young person is sentenced as an adult.

In 2011, two notable changes were made to the law governing sex crimes.  One of the changes was that the SOIRA was amended to remove judicial discretion with respect to whether an individual who committed one of the designated sex crimes must be placed on the Registry.  The other amendment required that a lifetime SOIRA order was made mandatory for certain situations, including when an accused person is convicted of more than one sexual assault.  These were the two specific issues that were considered by the appeal court in Ndhlovu’s appeal.

We will continue to follow this case and will report in this blog if Ndhlovu decides to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

If you are facing criminal charges for sex related offences or have any other questions or concerns about your legal rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.  We are available when you need us most.