London Free Press
25 March 2011
SPECIAL REPORT: 391: That’s how many convicted sex offenders live in London, based on Ontario’s sex offender registry. Next month, a beefed-up national registry will be in place to complement its Ontario equivalent, a long-overdue move, say advocates, that will bolster police efforts to protect the public from predators.
Last Updated: March 25, 2011 8:22am
- Jim Stephenson sits in his Brampton home Thursday holding a picture of his son Christopher. “Had this registry — the (computerized) system they have today — been in place at that time, the events of that weekend wouldn’t have been so tragic,” says Stephenson. “I think Christopher would have been rescued.” His son, Christopher was, abducted, tortured, raped and murdered in 1988 by a notorious pedophile, setting off demands for a central sex offender registry. (DAVE ABEL QMI AGENCY)
There is also a strength, a sense of peace, optimism or hope and a determination that only a deep-felt truth could deliver to someone whose life was upended by an unimaginable horror: the abduction, rape, torture and murder of his 11-year-old son, Christopher, at the hands of sadistic pedophile Joseph Fredericks, 45, on Father’s Day weekend, 1988.
Today, Jim Stephenson has bittersweet reasons to celebrate as he awaits the April 15 implementation of the revamped federal sex offender registry, which has become proactive similar to the Ontario registry — Christopher’s Law — which marks its 10th anniversary April 23.
“Had this registry — the (computerized) system they have today — been in place at that time, the events of that weekend wouldn’t been so tragic,” said Stephenson.
“I think Christopher would have been rescued.”
Today, there are 24,444 names of sex offenders on the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR), which includes the 13,630 names on the Ontario Sex Offender Registry (OSOR).
There are 391 registered sex offenders living in London.
Christopher’s murder sparked an inquest, which in 1993 recommended the establishment of a sex offender registry so police could keep track of offenders in their communities and to assist the investigations.
The facts of Christopher’s case illustrate how the lack of a registry allowed Fredericks to prey on boys for decades.
Fredericks, after years bouncing around foster homes, landed at age 11 in the Rideau Regional Rehabilitation Centre, an institution for the “mentally retarded.” There he was raped by an older boy and became a predator himself, assaulting other children and escaping several times, including once when at 16 he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl. He was then sent, as an involuntary patient, to Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre, where he stayed from 1959 until 1983.
Between the fall of 1983 and June 17, 1988, the day he abducted Christopher Stephenson, Federicks was convicted of seven sexual assaults on children, including while at mental health facilities in London and St. Thomas, once raping a six-year- old girl at knifepoint and a 15-year-old boy. No charges were laid and Fredericks was transferred back to a maximum security facility at Penetanguishene before again being transferred to a lower security facility in Kingston where he left the grounds and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl.
For the first time, Fredericks was criminally charged for the assault on the boy and sentenced to 22 months in prison and two years’ probation. When released to a halfway house in Ottawa, he wasted no time in abducting and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy, for which he was sentenced to another five years in prison. Released again in the fall of 1987 to a halfway house in Toronto, Fredericks moved to a second facility in Mississauga.
Then, in June 1988, Fredericks rented a room in Brampton.
He found Christopher sitting on a bench in a mall waiting while his mother, Anna, and sister, Amanda, shopped. Armed with a knife, Fredericks forced the boy into a field where Christopher was sexually assaulted, then to the room he rented at a home a block and a half from the Stephenson home.
Jim Stephenson acknowledges that if the Ontario registry were in place then it would likely have been a paper-based system, far less efficient and accurate than today’s computerized system.
But if the current system was in place, police would have known Fredericks was living one-and-a-half blocks from the Stephensons.
“They would have found Frederick’s history, his address, and they would have known where he’d gone,” said Stephenson, noting Christopher was held in the room for 36 hours before again being sexually assaulted then dropped off bound and gagged in a wooded area, where Fredericks slit the boy’s throat, causing him to slowly bleed to death.
On Father’s Day, police tracked down Fredericks, who led them to the boy’s body, which Stephenson had to identify the same day.
Jim and Anna Stephenson had to lobby for the inquest. When it was completed, they then had to lobby government to install a national sex offender registry.
The federal government took no action but Ontario set up its own registry and passed Christopher’s Law, which took effect April 23, 2001. The law made it mandatory for all sex offenders to be registered and had strict rules about reporting to police when they are released to the community or move.
Jim Bradley, Ontario’s minister of community safety and correctional services, says the province’s registry is “as good as any sex offender registry in North America.
“I think the public feel more secure now than it did when the registries weren’t available. There may be some dissension out there, but I think there is a consensus out there that the registry has been successful.”
Not so with the original federal registry, said Stephenson, echoing comments by other critics.
“They put in a system that wasn’t going to work, one almost designed to fail,” said Stephenson.
Not surprisingly, the federal registry was accessed by police an average of 165 times a year, compared to the Ontario registry that is accessed an average of 475 times a day.
Finally, after about two years of review, the current Conservative government approved changes to the national registry to bring it more in line with Ontario’s changes that come into effect April 15.
“These changes are long overdue,” said Stephenson. “It takes the national registry from being a notional national registry to a workable, effective registry. It’s got a real investigative and prevention aspect to it now.”
Stephenson credits police associations across the country for pressuring governments to set up sex offender registries, saying “if it wasn’t for them, we’d still be waiting for it to happen. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
In a telephone interview, federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was critical of the previous Liberal government for implementing a sex registry that didn’t work and allowed an estimated 40% of offenders to avoid having their name added to the list by leaving it to the discretion of judges. Now it is mandatory for sex offenders to register.
“There was no public policy reason, no constitutional or charter reason to prevent people from going on the registry,” said Toews. “It was just very bad legislation.”
RCMP Insp. Pierre Nezan is in charge of the national sex offender registry in Ottawa and has testified before a House of Commons committee on the need for change.
Nezan says the national and Ontario registries will be “fairly similar” but differences remain, including access by police, which is still somewhat limited due to privacy provisions, the need for geographic profiling using the federal registry (being developed,) and the fact names don’t come off the federal registry when someone is pardoned.
“The only way you’re going to get off the federal registry is if you’re found not guilty or you receive a Queen’s pardon and no sex offender has ever received that,” said Nezan.
A Queen’s pardon is rarely granted and is a “discretionary power to apply exceptional remedies, under exceptional circumstances, to deserving cases.” Only one or two such pardons are granted each year.
Another strength of the federal registry, said Nezan, is the integrity of the information put into the system. In Ontario, the system is decentralized so police agencies put information in the data bank. At the federal level, the information is put into the system by the same people.
“When you limit the points of entry, the people who can load it or take it off, you’re going to have more consistency and improved data integrity,” Nezan said.
When challenged about the effectiveness of the registries in solving crimes, Nezan defended them, noting he’s aware of one case in which a rare female sex offender who threatened to abduct and rape children was arrested based on information provided by the registry.
“The NSOR (national sex offender registry) or any sex offender registry is not a panacea for solving sex crimes,” he said.
“These are complex and complicated investigations and they require a comprehensive approach by police. We firmly believe (the national registry) does enhance public safety and plays a contributing role in investigations and it is only going to get better now that the legislation better reflects the needs of police.”
That suits Stephenson just fine. Today, he serves on the board of Ontario’s Office for Victims of Crime and has volunteered to talk in prisons and in communities.
He describes himself as community safety advocate and is proud of the legacy his son’s tragic death has left, especially with the federal changes in place.
“It’s a huge comfort,” he said.
“For us, it does (give Chris’s life meaning.) As parents, you like to see your children achieve something meaningful in their lives, to have an impact, and this has been a way to extend (Christopher’s) life. But he’ll always be 11 years old for us.”
TIME IS CRITICAL
In sex crimes, police say, time is critical, especially when it involves children:
- 44% of child victims are dead one hour after abduction.
- 74% are dead three hours after abduction.
- 91% are dead 24 hours after abduction.
When rates of re-offending are taken into account, the numbers appear to support arguments for a registry to keep track of sex offenders. In 1993, in an investigative report soon after the Stephenson inquest ended, Sun Media reported these alarming statistics:
- A 1989 Correctional Services of Canada study of offenders released from Kingston’s Regional Treatment Centre in the 10 years from 1974 to 1984 showed 5% of “treated” heterosexual pedophiles, 33% of homosexual pedophiles and 18% of stranger-on-stranger rapists re-offended within an average of three years after release.
- A 1991 study of 153 child molesters released from Penetanguishene maximum security psychiatric institution from 1972 to 1983 showed 31% were convicted of sex-related charges within an average six years after release. A total of 58% of released inmates were convicted of sexual and violent crimes.