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Former soccer coach argues he shouldn't have to register as sexual offender

Bob Birarda has applied for an exemption based on recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling striking down mandatory registration
birarda-sentencing-seyd
Former Vancouver Whitecaps women's coach Bob Birarda enters North Vancouver provincial court, Nov. 2, 2022, for his sentencing on sexual offences against young female players he coached when they were teens. Birarda is now serving a jail sentence.

Disgraced former Vancouver Whitecaps women’s soccer coach Bob Birarda is asking a judge that he not be required to register in Canada’s sex offender registry following his sentencing last month for sexual offences against teenaged girls.

Birarda, 55, was sentenced in November to two years in custody – including 16 months in jail and eight months of a conditional sentence – for sexual offences involving teenaged soccer players he coached over a 20-year period between 1988 and 2008.

During those two decades, Birarda was a prominent figure in the soccer community, running a soccer academy in the Lower Mainland and coaching at both provincial and national levels.

Normally, offenders sentenced for sexual crimes are required to register in Canada’s sex offender registry.

This week, however, Birarda’s lawyers argued in North Vancouver provincial court for a constitutional exemption from that requirement.

The lawyers made the application on the basis of a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down mandatory registration of all sexual offenders, that has been in place since 2011. In its decision, the high court noted the original purpose of the registry was to help police prevent and investigate sex crimes. But the registration of all sexual offenders, including those with a low risk to reoffend, was too broad, the court ruled, and infringed on offenders’ rights by subjecting them to “continuing and onerous reporting requirements” and “random compliance checks” in cases where that may not be necessary.

The Supreme Court has temporarily suspended striking down of the mandatory registration requirement, which why Birarda is requesting a special exemption, defence lawyer Nicole Gilewicz noted.

In court Wednesday, Gilewicz argued that Birarda has been deemed a low risk to reoffend by psychological assessments, has taken steps towards rehabilitation and made “significant efforts” to understand the actions that led to his convictions.

She added there is no evidence that Birarda is a pedophile and that at least 14 years have passed since his most recent offence.

Gilewicz said unless Birarda is granted an exemption, he stands to be on the sex offender registry for 20 years, which would involve random police checks at least once a year, potentially including a place of employment.

Being on the sex offender registry requires those on it to hand over personal information about their work, school, address, vehicle, and passport and any movements away from their home address of more than seven days.

Given Birarda’s low risk to reoffend, the infringement on his liberty would be “grossly disproportionate” to any risk, the lawyer argued.

She added it is doubtful having Birarda included on the registry would “ever prove useful to police.”

Crown counsel Linda Ostry argued against granting the exemption, saying being subject to the “normal inconvenience” of the registry wasn’t enough to consider granting an exemption.

“These are serious offences,” said Ostry, including grooming behaviour over a 20-year period and four victims.

Ostry added Birarda is a repeat offender who doesn’t have any mental health issues that would make registration especially difficult.

Judge Deanne Gaffar is expected to make her decision in the case sometime in the new year. A court date for that has not yet been set.

jseyd@nsnews.com
twitter.com/JaneSeyd

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