The territory’s justice minister, David Ramsay, has been confronted in the legislature over a lack of public notice when sex offenders are released from jail.
Earlier this month, 34-year-old Bobby Zoe was charged with two counts of sexual assault relating to separate incidents in two downtown Yellowknife homes.
Zoe has previously served jail time for sexual assault. There was no public warning when he was last released from prison.
Since 2000, RCMP in the NWT have twice issued what police term “public interest disclosures”. The latest came in October 2014, when RCMP warned that 27-year-old Travis Casaway was a “violent sex offender” who posed “a risk of significant harm to the public”.
On Thursday at the legislative assembly, Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins pressed Ramsay to explain why no such warning was issued regarding Zoe, or in other, similar cases.
“That means women, children and even some men were at risk while this predator stalked their next prey,” said Hawkins.
“It was my understanding that the police knew that this person was on the prowl, that this predator was looking for their next victim, but the public was not informed.
“My question for the minister of justice is: when does the public interest start to matter enough that they are informed that their personal safety may be at risk?”
Ramsay said the decision to release such public notices rests with RCMP, who must “weigh a number of factors” before taking action – an answer Hawkins said was “passing the buck”.
Ramsay added: “Whether [Hawkins] likes it or not, it is the responsibility of the RCMP. We will continue to work with the RCMP to ensure our communities are safe.”
“What’s the point of having a minister,” retaliated Hawkins, “if the minister just says we’ll leave it up to the RCMP?”
In an increasingly heated exchange, Ramsay said he found Hawkins’ questions “somewhat insulting to people that are putting their lives on the line every day”.
Hawkins replied: “Well, I’m really sorry I hurt the minister’s feelings, but frankly, I don’t care. The reality here is that the public’s interest needs to come first, not a predator on the loose.”