By Kevin Werner, News staff
The Stoney Creek community can breathe a sigh of relief after Hamilton Police arrested a 35-year-old convicted sexual offender Aug. 1 for a breach in his curfew.
Since Hamilton Police chief Glenn De Caire took the unusual step to issue a community safety notification for Keith Constantin, residents in the Fruitland Road and Winona areas have been concerned about his whereabouts.
A petition drive to get him out of the area collected over 2,200 signatures after a 1,000-signature goal was set. In addition, councillors Brenda Johnson and Maria Pearson had been papering neighbourhoods with posters with a description of Constantin urging the public to be on the lookout. A rally at the Stoney Creek municipal service centre for Aug. 2, which began on social media, was cancelled after the police announced the arrest of Constantin.
“I have been in contact with police on a regular basis,” said Johnson. “There was little the community could do. It was frustrating. We had the neighbourhood watch to report on anything suspicious.”
Pearson has been talking to many of her residents who have called her about what they could do. She also warned residents to be calm, but also be on guard.
“We have to be careful,” said Pearson. “He does have his rights. The police know where is located. We have to do this the right way.”
Police announced that Constantin had breached his curfew nine days after he was released July 23 after serving a five-year sentence for assaulting a young woman in the basement of his parents’ house. He appeared in court Aug. 2. A bail hearing is scheduled for Aug. 11.
Last April the Supreme Court of Canada supported in a 7-0 decision a lower court ruling that gave citizens the right to know how many sex offenders live within a specific geographic area in Ontario based on the first three digits of the postal code. There are about 7,400 registered sex offenders in the province’s Sex Offender Registry. The registry was created in 2001 becoming the first one in the country. The registry was established to follow convicted, dangerous, high-risk sexual offenders. It requires each offender to register with the police in the jurisdiction where the offender will reside.
When Constantin was released on July 23, he was bound by a number of conditions, including not to be alone with anyone under the age of 16 unless accompanied by an adult 18 years or older, not to be present in certain areas, including swimming pools, schools and playgrounds.
De Caire issued a community safety announcement when Constantin was released, warning residents in the Gage Park area, where Constantin was planning on staying to be careful. Police stated Constantin was a high risk to re-offend again. The Parole Board of Canada had stated that it had held Constantin in custody until the last possible moment. It had stated he could seriously harm or even kill someone in the future. Furious Gage Park residents presented a 1,000-signature petition demanding Constantin get out of their neighbourhood. Under pressure he decided to move to Stoney Creek.
“He needs to go into a secured facility,” said Johnson. “If the police are concerned, we should be concerned.”
John Clinton, executive director of the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton, a half-way house for male federal parolees in central Hamilton, says the police and judicial system fails these types of perpetrators.
“I feel very strongly that (issuing the notice) was not the right way to deal with it,” said Clinton. “There are better options.”
He said the community safety notice only heighten the fear within the community, prompting residents to plaster the area with posters, contributing to a not-in-my-backyard situation.
“It provokes the situation,” he said. “It puts the public at a higher risk.”
He said alternative solutions what the police did could include the crown asking the judiciary to declare Constantin a dangerous offender. In addition, the judge could add to an order when releasing the person to impose a supervisory order for up to 10 years.
“When a person is released, there is still a period of supervision (for the person).”
Clinton said a serious issue is when high-risk offenders are released from custody, they have no support system. Hamilton does have a network where a group of volunteers provide assistance to the high-risk individuals.
“They can befriend him and help in the transition,” he said. “To be successful, you need to be pro-active and not reactive. He has served his time.”
Pearson has been asking residents to contact the federal government about doing more to prevent high risk sexual offenders from being released into communities.
She pointed out the House of Commons recently approved second reading of Bill C-26 that seeks to amend the Criminal Code and create a national public database of high risk offenders that could include names and pictures of sex offenders and details of their crimes.
“That is something that could improve the situation,” said Pearson.