Introduction

Every child has the right to grow up safe and happy, and free from abuse. To ensure the safety of our children we must prevent those who pose a danger to young persons from being in positions of trust over them. All agencies that deal with children should have access to a system where potential employees can be screened. In Canada, we use the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) for this purpose.

Background Issues

The sexual abuse of children is not the minor problem that society once believed it to be. Although it is still a secretive problem, more victims are coming forward to report abuse they have endured. Unfortunately, many of these victims do not come forward until years after the abuse, as adults, and many do not come forward at all.

Quantifying the extent of violent victimization against children and youth continues to be a challenge in Canada. Detailed information about police-reported crimes committed against children and youth is collected through the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey. Just over 75,000 children and youth were victims of police-reported violent crime in 2008. That is, for every 100,000 children and youth in Canada, 1,111 were victims of a violent offence. However, the 2009 General Social Survey on Victimization found that only 20 percent of youths reported violent crimes to police. According to a study of police-reported data, sexual assault is the second most prevalent type of violence committed against children and youth. In 2008, there were over 13,600 child and youth victims of sexual offences reported to police. Over half (59%) of all victims of sexual assault were children and youth under the age of 18. The effects of any form of sexual abuse on a child are devastating. The aftermath of abuse may plague a victim throughout their life.

Potential Abusers

Abusers can be relatives, neighbours, friends, school teachers, etc. In fact, most children are abused by someone they know and trust. Studies have found that most violent acts committed against children and youth are perpetrated by people who are part of the victim’s immediate environment (United Nations, 2006). The majority of police-reported assaults against children under the age of 6 (81%) were committed by someone known to the victim. The youngest victims (children under 6), 6 in 10 assaults (64%) were perpetrated by a family member.

As older children and youth spend more time outside of the family sphere, they are more likely than younger children to be assaulted by persons outside the family. Youth aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 are more likely to be abused by persons outside the family (59% and 63% respectively) compared to children under 12. Strangers are implicated in 10% of police-reported sexual violence against children and youth. The majority (80%) of child and youth victims who were sexually assaulted by a stranger are older, between 12 and 17 years of age.

According to the 1998 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS), non-parental relatives represented the largest group of alleged perpetrators (44%), followed by biological fathers (8%), stepfathers (8%), other acquaintances (8%) and babysitters (7%). A child’s peers and family friends were each identified as the alleged perpetrator in 5% of substantiated cases. Teachers were identified in 4% of cases, and other professionals, strangers or a parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend were each identified in 2% of cases. In 5% of substantiated sexual abuse cases, mothers were identified as the alleged perpetrator.

Many abusers spend time in areas where they know children will be. They seek positions that enable them access to children and situations where they can gain the child’s trust; they often volunteer for agencies that deal with children including volunteer sports coaches, child care workers, day care workers, etc. A Canadian study of the backgrounds of adult male sex offenders found that in 80% of the 30 occurrences of sexual abuse that were studied, sex offenders occupied community positions of trust (Graham, 1996).

The Law – Preventative Orders

The Criminal Code has made provisions that persons who have been convicted of a sexual offence against a child can be ordered as part of their sentence to eliminate all contact with persons under the age of sixteen in recreational, educational and custodial situations. Section 161 of the Criminal Code states that:

§ 161) Where an offender is convicted, or discharged on the condition prescribed in a probation order under § 736, in respect of a person who is under the age of sixteen years, the court that sentences the offender or directs that the accused be discharged, as the case may be, in addition to any other punishment that may be imposed for that offence or any other conditions prescribed in the order of discharge, shall consider making and may make, subject to the conditions or exemptions that the court directs, an order preventing the offender from:

  1. attending a public park or public swimming area where persons under the age of sixteen years are present or can reasonably be expected to be present, or a daycare centre, school-ground, playground or community centre; or
  2. seeking, obtaining or continuing any employment, whether or not the employment is remunerated or becoming or being a volunteer in a capacity, that involves being in a position of trust or authority towards persons under the age of sixteen years.

Section 161 was amended in 2005 to expand the list of offences to include the offence of indecent exposure involving a victim under sixteen (§ 173(2)), as well as a number of sexual offences that no longer appear in the Criminal Code but have been altered or replaced by subsequent amendments. It also adds the prohibition of communicating with children under sixteen by computer.

In addition to these provisions, the Criminal Code has also set out protection for children from individuals who may not have been previously convicted of a sexual offence. Section 810.1 states that:

(1) Any person who fears on reasonable grounds that another person will commit an offence under § 151, 152, 155 or 159, 160(2) or 160(3), 170 or 171, 173(2) or 271, 272, or 273, in respect to one or more persons who are under the age of sixteen years, may lay information before a provincial court judge, whether or not the person or persons in respect of whom it is feared that the offender will be committed are named.

Under Section (3) the judge, upon hearing the evidence, can decide if the complaint is legitimate. If the judge is satisfied that the information is correct, the defendant can be ordered to comply with specified conditions prohibiting the defendant from engaging in any activity that involves contact with persons under the age of sixteen years and from attending a public park or public swimming area where persons under the age of sixteen years are present or can reasonably be expected to be present, or a daycare centre, school-ground, playground or community centre, for any period fixed by the provincial court judge that does not exceed twelve months.

In essence, section 810.1 permits the courts to impose a ban on a person who is not a proven sex offender if there is reasonable fear that the person may become a sexual offender.

Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC)

One of the most effective tools that we have to track sex offenders is the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). CPIC was created in 1966 to provide tools to assist the police community in combating crime. It was approved by the Treasury Board in 1967 as a computerized information system to provide Canadian law enforcement agencies with information on crimes and criminals. It is operated by the RCMP under the stewardship of National Police Services.

How CPIC Works

A criminal history file is created the first time an individual is charged by police. In most cases, it will be reported by the charging police service to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). The RCMP then opens a temporary file in the database accessible only to the charging police service. This file is destroyed by CPIC after five years if there is no disposition in the case. If the charge leads to a conviction, a permanent file or criminal record is created. If there is an acquittal, or charges are stayed or withdrawn, the file remains in the national system and, depending on the nature of the case, are purged after a set amount of time. These criminal “histories,” until purged, remain searchable by police but are not considered for court purposes a criminal record. Cases ending in a conditional or absolute discharge, while not considered a conviction, are also tracked but are no longer nationally accessible following three- and one-year periods, respectively. CPIC information can be viewed by some government departments and agencies and more than 80,000 law enforcement officers from across the country. Records are added and purged over time. In 2007, the database was accessed an average 392,792 times each day.

Levels of CPIC

There are three levels to the criminal history section of CPIC and varying degrees of access. The Criminal Name Index (CNI), the most basic level, is simply a list of names of people for whom a criminal record may exist. The Criminal Record Synopsis is a larger database that contains personal information and physical characteristics. It indicates which of 15 criminal offence types – such as violence, weapons, and criminal driving – a person has been charged with, whether or not they have been convicted, and warns if a person is considered to be dangerous to themselves or others. There are no exact charges listed. For violence, for example, the underlying charge can range from assault to murder. The next level, Criminal Records II, or full criminal record, contains the most detailed information regarding Canadians with criminal records. This information includes exact charges, dates of convictions, detailed dispositions and where the crimes took place.

How a Check Is Initiated

The process varies from region to region, but the first step is to check with local police. In some regions, a hiring organization can ask the applicant to have a CPIC check administered and then provide the organization with the results of the check. In other regions, the organizations themselves will choose to request a CPIC check of a prospective employee with the consent of the individual. The consent of the potential employee is still required before any information will be released by the police. In all cases, only accredited law enforcement agencies can directly access CPIC. This is to ensure both the security of police investigations and to guard against invasion of privacy.

Responsibility to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Although these measures can assist an organization in preventing child sexual abuse, they should not rely on the CPIC check alone. It is essential that the individual organizations reduce the risks by implementing their own strict recruiting, screening, training and supervising measures for all employees and volunteers. The Departments of Solicitor General, Justice and Health have sponsored a manual that organizations can use to develop and institute such measures.

A Parents Role

There are many steps parents can take to ensure that potential abusers are not allowed near children in the community. Parents should ensure that all organized activities such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, football, hockey, basketball, camps, and 4-H Clubs insist that volunteers engage in screening. If a particular organization does not, ask them why. If an organization does not screen their volunteers and workers, parents can volunteer their time or efforts towards this goal. Organizations may find the financial burden of screening too high or may not have enough staff to handle the paperwork. Parents can always offer to help with fundraising or donating time. This may reassure parents that their children and the children of the community are safe. Organizations that claim they would not be able to attract enough volunteers or are concerned with privacy are usually not thinking of a child’s best interest. Any legitimate volunteer that would like to work with children should not be deterred by a simple background check. If an organization is not checking volunteers for these reasons, parents should seriously reconsider whether participating in this particular program would be in the best interests of their child.

Conclusion

The protection of our children should be a priority of our government and of society. While CPIC will not prevent everyone who would abuse a child from doing so, it has the potential to stop some abuse as many potential abusers would be discouraged from applying for a position of trust by a screening check, and others would be precluded by the screening process itself. We can not gamble with the welfare of our children. We can no longer place blind faith in our justice system to provide us with the guarantee that once an offender has faced the system, they will no longer commit these unspeakable crimes. Screening potential employees and volunteers who work with children has proven to be the most effective method of preventing sexual abuse. If both organizations and government continue with their commitment to keep children safe, those that victimize children will have a more difficult time finding vulnerable victims.

Bill C-2 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=3151626&Language=e&Mode=1&File=30

Child and Youth Victims of Police-reported Violent Crime, 2008. Online: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85f0033m/2010023/part-partie1-eng.htm.

Graham, K. (1996). The childhood victimization of sex offenders: an under-estimated issue. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 40(3), 192-203.

Statistics Canada – Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE, Vol. 25, no. 1. Children and Youth as Victims of Violent Crime. Online: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2005001-eng.pdf

The Canadian Police Information Centre. http://www.cpic-cipc.ca/English/index.cfm?CFID=1831431&CFTOKEN=68618146&jsessionid=bc30755551300287454104