The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

When a Sex Offender Is Released

The current system is dangerous. A victim, sex offender and experts weigh in.

By Carrie-May Siggins 2 Apr 2007 |

Carrie-May Siggins is a Vancouver-based writer and documentary film producer.

image atom
How to protect from re-offence.

What if, one morning, you walked out of your front door to find the smiling photo, whitewashed to a lamppost, of a violent sexual offender about to move into your building? What would you do? With the highly publicized release of the Balcony Rapist into a New Westminster neighbourhood, it's a question many communities have been asking themselves lately.

Whether or not that sexual offender has adequate support services may not be the first of your concerns. But there are a growing number of advocates who believe that it should be.

Fifty to 60 per cent of the prison population released into the community is on parole and a third is on statutory release. Those offenders can access sources of help when they're released: social workers, addictions counselling, housing placement helpers, job counsellors and mental health workers.

On their own

But there are some offenders, due to the violent nature of their crime, who serve their full sentence before being released into the community. It's called "warrant expiry," and it means that prisoners walk away from the prison system as free citizens. Once released, they are no longer wards of the state.

Offenders released on warrant expiry don't have access to any of the same services as those on parole, and the only official person they have contact with is a parole officer. The transition back into a "straight" community is often extremely difficult, and those services can mean the difference between getting a job or getting reconvicted.

Studies show programs that ease an offender's transition back into the community are the best way to prevent re-offence. Laurence Motiuk, the author of one study for Corrections Canada, writes: "There is solid evidence supporting the premise that the gradual and structured release of offenders is the safest strategy for the protection of society against new offences by released offenders."

Even Jane Doe, one of the victims of the Balcony Rapist, recently wrote in Maclean's. "Surely, public safety would be better served if the Balcony Rapist, along with all who are released from prison, had prospects of housing and work."

They're out there

Every year a total of 4,500 offenders are released on warrant expiry from detention centres across Canada. The rate of re-offence for sex offenders in that group is 10 per cent. This is one of the lowest recidivism rates for re-offence for any type of criminal activity, but it still means there are around 450 re-offences by violent sexual criminals each year, a number most communities would not be happy to hear.

So whose jurisdiction is it to help offenders released on "warrant expiry"? Corrections Services Canada has "no legal recourse," says Dennis Findlay, a press officer there. "That person released on a warrant expiry is a free man. Legally, it's not our jurisdiction." What they can do is inform the police that an offender with a history of violence is moving to their community. The police can then send his information package and criminal history to media outlets. They can also apply to have something called an 810 restriction placed on him: a "long-term supervision order" that police can use to restrict the actions of a released offender. If drugs are seen as a possible trigger for criminal behaviour, for a year after release that offender will be sent back to prison if he is caught anywhere near them. Those convicted of child molestation are not allowed anywhere near the proximity of a school.

But, according to reports from Corrections Canada, 810 restrictions are not a suitable way to protect the community against violent recidivism. They are not even effective in physically removing the offender from the community: 810 restrictions often only last little more than a few months, sometimes a year. Researchers in one study from Correction Services Canada (CSC) found that "time served on detention did not reduce the likelihood of violent recidivism."

'I didn't want to change'

One person is especially familiar with the inadequate services for offenders. In 1993, John (not his real name), a bulky, bespectacled man with ice blue eyes, was charged with multiple accounts of, among other things, sexual assault and illegal confinement. He assaulted a 15-year-old girl, plus women he both knew and whose acquaintance he made briefly, in bars, before the assault. The crown wanted to give him a "dangerous offenders" designation, which could have meant an indefinite sentence, but his lawyers plea-bargained. He received 10 years, and ended up serving 11 years and two months. "It was a relief," says John, "compared to a life sentence."

Once he began his sentence at a federal correctional facility in B.C., he stopped his hard-drug habit but still smoked marijuana several times a week, and was repeatedly reprimanded for bad behaviour. "I didn't want to change," he says. "For the first four or five years, I didn't care. I was the naughty guy in the corrections centre." But then, with six years left to his sentence, he experienced a sea change. He realized that he didn't want to die in jail, and that he cared about the possibility of another chance at life on the outside enough to give reform another try.

For the following six years, he attended three intensive sex offender programs simultaneously. He took a class in "cog skills," or everyday living, and got his grade 12 diploma, or GED. He began tutoring other inmates, attending a cabinet shop course and taking care of his health, since he "wanted to give back." It wouldn't be until later that John would begin to think about his victims, to feel the weight of what he'd done. But he believes that the work within prison was clearing the path to later allow this to happen.

When he was released in 2004, he says, "It was a very scary time. I was stepping out into nothing." He had no services at his disposal, and the police had ordered an 810 to be implemented against him, sending him back to jail if he violated any of its conditions.

Mind the gap

So who's filling the gaps left by Corrections Services for those released on warrant expiry? Currently, it's volunteer organizations that are filling the services gap. One such group is Circles of Support and Accountability, (COSA), a faith-based, community-based group of volunteers selected and trained to work with sexual offenders. COSA was specifically created to help this kind of offender -- those released on warrant expiry with no services available to them.

The offender, often while still in prison, signs a "covenant" with COSA, agreeing to be totally honest with the group and promising to sincerely attempt rehabilitation. Once out, he has a circle of between four and six volunteers. In the first month after his release, volunteers talk to the offender many times a day, and meet with him at least once a week. They help him with everything from finding a job to grocery shopping to finding housing.

Housing is one of the most important and difficult things to find, according to Otto Driedger, the founder of COSA in Regina, Saskatchewan, and one of the architects of that province's social justice system. "There is often very strong objection to that person being there, and that makes it very, very difficult to find accommodation. Getting people to settle in areas that are not high problem areas is difficult."

A study conducted by CSC found that the recidivism rate improves by 70 per cent if an offender has a COSA group waiting for him when he gets out. But despite this, the group's funding is almost non-existent. As a faith-based organization, COSA receives its financial support through the CSC chaplainry. But funding is on a contingency basis -- that means they only get it if the chaplaincy has money left over after its other spending is complete. When they do get any money, COSA receives about 27 cents a day for each offender. So, in B.C., where they are assisting between 12-15 offenders at any given time, they receive under $1,200 a year in funding.

'Leading a Jekyll and Hyde life'

In 2004, after he was released from his 11-year sentence, he was living in Chilliwack. During that year, he was sent back to a correctional facility three separate times for violating the stipulations of his release and 810. Each time, it was for using drugs, "not for anything more serious," but was "coming very close."

"I was allowing old ways to control my behaviour," he says. "I was leading a Jekyll and Hyde life, hanging out in the wrong areas." He also says he was starting to manipulate friends and COSA volunteers for money to buy drugs, and he didn't like what was happening to him.

During the third, three-month sentence, he decided he should go to the prairies at the end of his term, so he could "start again." Upon his release from the Mission facility, a correctional officer picked him up and took him straight to the airport where he boarded a WestJet flight, and his sister picked him up at the airport.

What met him when he arrived was a media storm -- his face was plastered on every lamppost and on the front page of the newspaper. The nightly news led with him for weeks.

"I was more afraid of the community than they were of me," he says. People would recognize him wherever he went, cross the street when they saw him coming, or spit in his direction. He hid in a mission home for five months. John felt close to returning to his triggers, including the crack cocaine that stoked violent urges, and so got in touch with that city's COSA. He had had a circle in B.C., but at that time was not interested in getting clean. This time, he had a parole officer, psychiatrist, family and a circle to help him. He has been clean, sober and "not doing anything bad" for 17 months.

"COSA makes me feel accountable for my actions," says John. "They helped me to learn how to take a few moments, calm down, stop from getting anxious and think clearly. By doing that, I realize that I'm accountable, and I think twice. You realize consequences. I've started to take responsibility for what I've done in the past."

Related Tyee stories:


Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: What Coverage Would You Like to See More of This Year?

Take this week's poll