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Decade of sex offender registry marked Wednesday

Lauren Carter, Special to The Packet & Times

Christopher's Law could have saved the life of Christopher Stephenson.

"If it had been around when he was abducted, the police would have known where (the offender) lived and would have gone to his home," said Anna Stephenson, 58, standing beside her husband Jim, 66. "It would have saved Christopher's life."

In 1988, the couple's 11-year-old son was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered by a convicted pedophile on federal statutory release.

An inquest into the crime in 1993 recommended the creation of a database of sex offenders. Christopher's Law, the country's first sex offender registry, was implemented on April 23, 2001. The law requires sex offenders to register with police in their jurisdiction upon their release.

On Wednesday, Anna and Jim Stephenson, their daughter Amanda McGregor and her husband Cameron, and police and dignitaries gathered at OPP General Headquarters to commemorate the 10th anniversary, view the introduction to a new registry training video, and unveil a plaque in honour of Christopher Stephenson's legacy.

"Your love and hopes and dreams for Christopher as a young man can't be replaced," said Staff Sgt. Adam Alderson, the manager of the Ontario Sex Offender Registry. "But Christopher provides inspiration to our people each and every day."

Ontario is the only Canadian province with a sex offender registry. The registry boasts a 97% compliance rate - the highest in North America. More than 13,000 offenders are on the list and "police access the registry hundreds of times a day as they investigate crimes," said James Bradley, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

"When the sex offenders registry came into effect 10 years ago, we were charting a new path for Ontario," Bradley said, adding that several changes have since been made to the legislation.

In 2008, changes were made that require additional sex offenders to register, including those serving intermittent sentences. This spring, all three parties unanimously agreed to pass Bill 163, an amendment enforcing changes that include the requirement that criminals convicted of a sex offence outside of Canada register with police.

Bradley said that the fact that only trained OPP officers can access the list increases offenders' compliance.

"Compliance is very important so that they can be watched and checked on. You don't want child predators hanging around children."

For Jim and Anna Stephenson, Wednesday's anniversary ceremony was less about grief and more about the commemoration of their son's legacy.

"The day that is the most difficult to get through is Father's Day," said Jim, referring to the day his son was murdered. "Today is a different day. It's about Christopher's Law."

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