A dangerous sexual offender with a lengthy record for assaulting teenage boys applied for and received a Canadian passport while residing at Sumas Centre in Abbotsford, according to an internal government report obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
Investigators hired by Ottawa to look at the case were alarmed by the incident because if prisoners have access to passports, it could make it easier for dangerous criminals on parole or probation to quickly flee the country.
But while their report urged Corrections Canada and the Passport Office to share information to prevent such incidents, there is still no system in place to bar prisoners from obtaining passports.
"The legal availability of Canadian passports to offenders serving a sentence for a serious crime raises concerns regarding sharing of information between federal government agencies," the investigation's report said.
"There does not appear to be a well known or understood protocol to deal with the possibility of offenders applying for passports."
The report, obtained by the Sun under Access to Information legislation, is the result of a joint inquiry convened by the National Parole Board and Corrections Canada into the case of Christopher David Dawson. Dawson, a dangerous sexual offender, sexually assaulted a 16-year-old boy on Dec. 8, 1997 while on parole and residing at Sumas. He fled after staff at Sumas tried to arrest him for the assault.
Dawson was captured four days later in Burnaby, having dyed his grey hair brown.
The investigation, concluded in March 1998, found that even though Dawson had strict requirements on his parole that included returning to Sumas every night, he was issued a Canadian passport a month before his escape.
There is no mention in the report of who acted as guarantor on Dawson's passport application. The guarantor signs the application and the photos submitted to indicate he or she knows the applicant.
The report notes that the Canadian Passport Office has a database known as the Passport Control List with names of people deserving further scrutiny before being issued a passport.
But "in order for the name of an offender to be on the list, a letter would have to be written to the Passport Office for each offender who had a foreign travel restriction," the report states.
"Correctional Service of Canada should investigate the feasibility of developing a protocol with the Passport Office to control passport applications from offenders, and to share appropriate information."
The risk of flight has always been a big concern for Corrections officials and police. Courts will often force those charged with offences to turn over their passports before being released on bail. And there are several countries that do not have extradition treaties with Canada.
But in its official response to the inquiry written in June 1998, also released to the Sun, the federal government said it had no plans to bar offenders from gaining passports.
"[Corrections Canada] has, at its disposal, well-established risk assessment and dynamic supervision strategies to reduce any risk of flight and consequent potential risk to reoffend without removing an offender's right to possess a passport," the response states.
The Passport Office wrote that barring prisoners from receiving passports might violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives all Canadians the right to leave the country.
The office suggests that, rather than barring prisoners from receiving passports, it could set up a system to alert Corrections staff when passports are issued.
However, Sheila Liston, a spokeswoman with the Passport Office, said Monday she did not believe any formal system was yet in place to track when prisoners receive passports and to notify Corrections.
In addition to the concerns raised over passports, the inquiry's report also details how Dawson was able to escape from Sumas.
After learning of Dawson's alleged assault on the 16-year-old, Chilliwack RCMP notified staff at Sumas so they could arrest him when he checked in that evening.
At the time of his escape in 1997, Corrections told reporters Dawson fled immediately after being told he would be arrested.
"He came back after his curfew and he was told. ... He basically dashed to the parking lot and took off in his car," Sumas' director Sharon Hickey told The Province.
But the report suggests the circumstances were a bit more complicated.
It states that after the duty officer at Sumas told Dawson he was being arrested, Dawson asked if he could call his lawyer -- from the cell phone in his car. The officer agreed, according to the report, because the cell phone would "provide more privacy than was available in the foyer at Sumas Centre".
The officer escorted Dawson to his car and stood by the open driver's side door while Dawson made his call.
Then, "[Dawson] suddenly pulled the door closed, locked it and drove away," the report said. "The Duty Officer attempted to gain entry to the vehicle and tore the door handle off the vehicle as the car drove away."
At the time of the incident, the report notes, Sumas had no formal procedures in place for the arrest of residents at the centre. It has since drafted a policy on arrests and trained more officers in arrest procedures, the report says.
Dawson, who is now in his seventies, entered the correctional system for the first time when he was 30. He has been convicted 15 times for sexual assaults involving young men -- usually hitchhikers -- and was declared a dangerous sexual offender in 1975.
In 1990, the National Parole Board reviewed Dawson's incarceration after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that many dangerous offenders had served sentences that were disproportionately high given the nature of their offences. Since January 1994, Dawson has been repeatedly granted parole and then had his parole suspended for either violating the terms of his release or committing new offences.
"He has not been able to remain in the community for any length of time without serious allegations of sexual assaults against young men," the report states.
At the time of the incident in 1997, Dawson was on full-parole working full-time in Chilliwack, but was required to live at the Sumas Centre.
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