TORONTO (CP) -- Canadians might soon be able to find out the names and addresses of dangerous pedophiles as Ontario moves closer to setting up the country's first sex-offender registry.
The database would likely include names of people convicted of sex crimes and information on where they're currently living, said Solicitor General's Ministry spokesman Ken Tufts.
The government is debating whether to make it accessible to the public through such means as the Internet, libraries or the media and not just to police, he said.
Critics say a public registry could force sex offenders underground and away from treatment but Tufts said the government has to weigh the need for a shield against some of society's most-feared criminals.
"We have to strike a balance between those kind of concerns and the very real concerns of the public and parents that their children are going to be protected", he said.
Provincial and federal justice ministers are currently looking at setting up a national registry, although Ottawa has been lukewarm to the idea. Ontario would prefer to be part of a national project, but will press ahead with its own regardless, Tufts said.
The registry is to be in place as soon as possible, with an official plan going to cabinet for approval this fall, he said.
One unresolved issue is whether all sex offenders would be on the registry or just pedophiles. The ministry is looking at a number of models in the U.S. and the U.K., including a four-year-old registry in Indiana.
Residents of the state can key in names on an Internet site or check through printed lists to see if a neighbor, school teacher or anyone else has been convicted of a sexual offence against children.
State law says an organization could be liable in civil court if it hires someone on the list.
Becky McClure, assistant director of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said a woman in her own neighborhood discovered from perusing the list in a library that a man convicted of child molestation had moved in nearby. She warned her children to stay away from him.
"It's a good tool", McClure said in an interview.
U.S. studies have also shown registries can help police investigations, indicating if a known sex offender is living near the scene of a crime.
But the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has warned the idea could be abused if there are not strict limits on whose names get on and who gets access to them.
A registry accessible to the public could actually be dangerous, forcing sexual offenders to leave a community where they're getting treatment and surface somewhere they're not known, said Bill Sparks of the John Howard Society.
"The problem is that it can so easily backfire", he said.
Tufts said provincial legislation passed last year declared that the province's privacy legislation does not apply to publishing the names of released dangerous offenders.