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Protection versus privacy

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Re: Vancouver Sun editorial of March 6, 1997 It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon in support of community notification regarding child sex offenders in light of the tragic events in Bridal Falls. What is not so easy is to keep one’s head at such a time.

Clearly, if, as your editorial implies, the RCMP knew that Michael Gibbon was advertising free baby sitting and watching and taking pictures of children at the bumper boat park, they should have warned the community, and paid him a visit for a firm talk. Yet although three Bridal Falls residents are reported to have had suspicions about Gibbon, apparently none of them told the RCMP. If police don’t have the information, they can’t act.

On the other hand, the RCMP’s claim that the Privacy Act creates a barrier to notification is nonsense. There is ample authority under the Act to release personal information when a person poses a serious threat to the safety of children. It’s time the RCMP got its act together on the issue of disclosure.

The Sun refers to all child molesters are “pedophiles”, “sexual predators” and “monsters”, and claims that the disease is untreatable. I beg to differ. Many men with this condition are, with help, able to control their deviant behaviour, but putting them under pressure by exposing them to neighbours and friends could well undermine their efforts. Studies in Washington State show that the reoffence rate (measured by arrests) is about 20 percent over five years, and that community notification has no effect on the reoffence rate (although those subject to notification tend to be arrested sooner).

We are struggling to deal with the seemingly intractable problems raised by child molesters, and there appear to be no easy answers. In some cases the condition can be managed, in others not. Where it can’t be managed, ongoing monitoring and treatment of those at a high risk to reoffend is one option.

But this measure and others will not succeed unless we put resources into monitoring and relapse prevention programs, and give those programs a chance to work without subjecting the men to the glare of public exposure, except when absolutely necessary.

By: John Westwood