ZYTARUK: Keeping homicide victims’ names from public a disturbing trend

Not revealing the identities of homicide victims is bad public policy, and here’s why

So let it be written…

A disturbing trend by some Canadian police agencies to not reveal the identities of homicide victims is bad public policy, and here are several reasons why.

But first, consider these recent news items. Police on May 8th reportedly shot and killed someone at the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo while responding, according to the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., to reports of a “potential” carjacking. The RCMP decided not to release the victim’s name, and the Surrey-based IIO — which is tasked with keeping B.C. police officers accountable in cases involving in-custody deaths and serious injuries — has followed suit, citing privacy issues. Why a dead man killed by authorities in such a public way might require privacy is, I suppose, anyone’s guess.

READ ALSO: Police shooting on Vancouver Island stemmed from carjacking in Okanagan

READ ALSO: Man shot and killed during attempted arrest at Vancouver Island ferry terminal

READ ALSO: Update: Vernon shooting victim linked to B.C. crime spree in serious condition

Also in May the Regina Police Service decided it will no longer release the names of homicide victims to the public, shunting that process off to the courts on the premise that the names will in due course be available to the public in courthouse documents. That’s ignoring the fact that it’s especially difficult to search out a name when you don’t know what name you are looking for. The media, tasked with helping you better understand what’s going on in your community, simply does not have the resources to having someone sifting through all these court files.

I should also note that here in B.C., daily Supreme Court public access criminal case lists are becoming thick with the term “HMTQ vs Limited Access” where the names of those charged with murder and other serious crimes used to appear. Another disturbing trend, but let’s stay the course for now and tackle that one another day.

Following outcry, the Regina Police Service backpedalled and will for the time being release the names while Saskatchewan’s Privacy Commission reviews the matter. You can bet it will be a temporary stay, however, as the privacy commissioner reportedly agrees with what the police force is doing and has been quoted as remarking, “My death is nobody else’s business.”

Closer to home, in Alberta, a CBC analysis revealed that in 2017 the Edmonton Police publicly released the names of 60 per cent of that city’s homicide victims and the RCMP K Division released 83 per cent while, to its credit, the Calgary Police released 100 per cent.

Our own Integrated Homicide Investigation Team here in B.C. more often than not releases the names of victims but on occasion has withheld them. Corporal David Lee, a spokesman for IHIT, says the division’s policy is to release the name of the victim with the permission of his or her family, for the purpose of advancing the investigation. In cases where someone is accused of killing their spouse, the victim’s name and even that of the accused might be held back to protect the privacy of the couple’s children, which stands to reason but certainly doesn’t cover the gamut of all homicide cases. Lee said he doesn’t anticipate IHIT will adopt a Regina-style model. Good.

READ ALSO ZYTARUK: Road pricing is reprehensible

Now, back to that bad public policy. Homicides are not private circumstances, particularly if committed in public. When police refuse, on account of some blanket policy, to publicly identify the victims they are by default inviting the speculative chaos that is social media, where erroneous information spreads like wildfire.

The identities of homicide victims are not irrelevant. They were real people — someone’s son, daughter, mommy or daddy — and should not be handled like a statistic. When the identity of a homicide victim is shared publicly after kin are notified somebody out there might possess information or insight that could help bring a killer to justice. When people know something about the victim, with identification being the obvious entry point, they are more inclined to care about what happened to that victim and apply pressure on authorities to solve the crime. Withholding a homicide victim’s name from the public impedes that scrutiny.

IHIT’s crest reads, in Latin, “Pro Inique Mortuis Justitia.”

In English, that’s “Justice For Those Who Have Died Unfairly.”

How does hiding a victim’s name from the public promote justice for that poor soul whose life has been unfairly cut short by crime, which is of course every citizen’s concern?

Putting a name and face to a homicide victim compels the public to seek answers and, where necessary, effect change. A steady diet of no-name homicides in the public domain would encourage detachment and, ultimately, public indifference.

In 1923, Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart famously declared that “It is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

I like to think that holds true today and believe that withholding from the public the names of homicide victims, except in extraordinary circumstances, does nothing to further that cause and in fact impedes it. The secrecy should end.

So let it be done.



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

Calgary PoliceCriminal JusticeEdmonton PoliceHomice victimsIHITIIONanaimo RCMPprivacypublic policyReginazytaruk column so let it be done

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langford racing enthusiast back in driver’s seat of life after surviving aggressive cancer

70-year-old David Smith finishes mid-pack in Canada 200 race at Western Speedway

New nurse practitioner-led medical clinic welcomes Victoria patients

Health Care on Yates expects to serve 6,800 new patients over the next three years

Central Saanich needs at least more than 500 additional daycare spaces

Report before Central Saanich says region faces a ‘chronic shortage’ of daycare spaces

Metchosin inmate sentenced to 12 months in jail for escaping custody

Sentence to be served concurrent to a life sentence he was already serving

Sooke jumps on board to ban use of rat poison

City staff will educate residents on harmful effects of rodenticides

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Application deadline for fish harvester benefits program extended

Those financially impacted by the pandemic have until Oct. 5 to apply

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

Most Read