Jim Stephenson has nothing but praise for Peel Regional Police and the support they’ve shown his family over the years as they pushed for reform as to how sex offenders are managed.
Stephenson is also encouraged by Peel police’s latest proactive policing initiative named after his late son “Project Christopher.”
It was June 18, 1988 when Stephenson’s wife Anna took the couple’s two children, Christopher and Amanda, to the Shopper’s World Mall in Brampton. Christopher was abducted, sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed by notorious sex offender Joseph Fredericks who later confessed to the crime. Fredericks, who preyed on children and vulnerable adults, had been released from prison on “mandatory supervision.”
A coroner’s inquest was ordered and that’s when Stephenson said his family realized how poorly sex offenders were managed and a number of recommendations were made. The Stephenson family campaigned for legislative reform and in 2001, Ontario proclaimed “Christopher’s Law,” the formation of a provincial sex offender’s registry, the first of its kind in the country.
Three year’s later, Ottawa legislated the national sex offender’s registry.
“Until the legislation was proclaimed here in 2001 and then federally in 2004, sex offenders were not properly managed. Nobody really knew where they were. Today, sex offenders are managed by police services throughout the province,” said Jim. “They track them by residence, they track them by employment, they track them by periodic reporting. I like to think there are a lot of sex offenders out there but they are aware what they’re up to.”
Inspector Lisa Hewison, who oversees the offender management unit in Peel Region, is in charge of “Project Christopher” which was launched this summer. The initiative led by the special victims unit, which she also manages, was to proactively monitor some of the 740 registered sex offenders who live in Mississauga and Brampton, by dedicating seven plainclothes officers to carry out compliance checks.
For a week in July, two weeks in August and two weeks in September, officers were sent out to see if sex offenders were following the conditions of their release.
“There were ones that were compliant and then the ones that weren’t compliant, either with the conditions that were set out in the 161. We found them in parks, or approaching children and then also some, there was a breach of prisoner’s law, where they hadn’t properly reported their change of address or change of employment information,” said Hewison.
Deputy Chief Nick Milonovich said the timing for Project Christopher was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The reality is, contemporary pressures in our communities create risks. Communities are experiencing lifting restrictions, returning to routines and that creates pressures that we had not seen during the lockdown. One of the things that our organization is trying to do, is to get ahead of that, and identify those potential risks and support it whether it be through enforcement or preventative campaigns. We’re really investing in ultimately trying to prevent from experiencing what the Stephenson parents have,” said Milinovich.
Project Christopher will continue into the fall, Milinovich promised.
“We want people who know that they are on those registries to recognize, we will be checking and we want them to abide by the conditions that they have been afforded and if that happens, then there are no issues,” he explained.
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