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

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

The Regional District of Nanaimo faces challenges with garbage bin replacement requests. (Michael Briones photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo faces challenges to meet requests for garbage bin replacements

Waste manager says RDN will have a surplus of 100-litre carts

Members of the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. set up the tube where rainbow trout were released into Spider Lake on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Michael Briones photo)
Fishing time: 1,800 rainbow trout released into Spider Lake

Society records spike in fishing licences during pandemic

A map showing where the new developments for affordable housing will be located on Moilliet Street in Parksville. (submitted photo)
Parksville city council approves development permit for 87 housing units

Development to include four-storey apartment and eight townhouses

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
B.C. dentists and bus drivers want newly-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

BC Dental Association says dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

President of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teri Mooring is calling for teachers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Why it’s ‘urgent’ B.C. teachers get vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer

President Teri Mooring says not enough is being done to prevent virus transmission in schools

Most Read