Regina’s Police Chief is defending the service’s new policy on naming murder victims, giving the service the choice to name them or not.
Previously the Regina Police Service had named almost every murder victim, but a new recommended policy presented to the Board of Police Commissioners on Wednesday morning sets out situations where the Chief could decide to hold back a name.
Chief Evan Bray said the only reason the new policy was created was to make sure the service is in line with provincial legislation.
“Our intent is not to further victimize someone, our intent is not to brush a crime under the carpet, to leave homicide victims faceless and let the suspects that are committing these crimes get away with it in anonymity – that’s not what this is talking about. This is just making sure, because we now fall under privacy legislation, that we’re not offside with that.”
As of Jan. 1 this year, all police services in the province were brought under the purview of the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Bray said the new policy may not actually change how many names are released by the police services.
“I don’t expect to see a significant change in how we do business.”
When questioned about it by media on Wednesday, besides the wishes of the family and where the information would harm an investigation, Bray said he couldn’t name a situation which might come up where he would decide to hold back a name.
Bray said things like that will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
A new policy
In May, the Regina Police Service amended its policy to reflect the change in legislation, but that was soon challenged when the service decided not to release the name of a victim. So, the police went back to take another look.
According to a letter from Bray to the Board of Police Commissioners, the service consulted with several stakeholders, including the privacy commissioner.
A letter from the privacy commissioner, which was included in the report, said the police policy works because it’s being done on a case-by-case basis, though he suggested some wording to add.
“A deceased person, by virtue of the fact they’re deceased, doesn’t give up their right to privacy,” said Bray after the Board of Police Commissioner’s meeting in July.
“I don’t think it’s possible to say we are no longer doing it, or we’re doing it every time. There’s a bit of happy medium there, we have to determine it on a case by case basis.”
In many cases, the final decision will lay with Bray or his designate.
The new recommended policy will be presented again in September after police have consulted with media about it.
The police policy outlines the conditions where the name will be released as the following: if the release will help the investigation, if it’s in the public interest, to protect someone’s health or safety, after the first appearance of someone charged in the crime and if the name is already public.
It states that the name will not be released if the identity hasn’t been verified, if the next of kin hasn’t yet been notified, if the next of kin asked that it not be released or if the chief decides it would be an invasion of the victim’s privacy. Additionally, the names will not be released if it would hurt the investigation, if the chief decides releasing the information would not be in the public interest or if the chief decides the purpose of releasing the identity could be achieved by releasing information that doesn’t identify the victim such as age and gender.
In some cases, regardless of the police decision, the name will come out as victim’s names are included in court documents when someone is charged with a crime.
There have been cases of concern in Saskatchewan where the case ends up being a murder-suicide, where there will be no charges because the killer is dead themselves.
Bray said domestic violence situations have been brought up in the service’s consultations about the policy. He said the service has changed how it investigated intimate partner violence in recent years and that he’s never in favour of something which would lessen the work being done in that area.
Mayor Michael Fougere is a member of the Board of Police Commissioners in Regina. In July, he said he prefers murder victims’ names to be released, but he understands there are times when they can’t be.
“If a family requests the name not be released, and there are other reasons why, in the public interest, that the name not be released, we have to respect that as well.”
On Wednesday, Fougere said if there continues to be concerns in this area then maybe the legislation needs to be re-written.
Earlier in the spring, Minister of Justice Don Morgan said he was concerned at the idea victim’s names wouldn’t be released.
“People will empathize and they will understand, but I think part of it is maintaining integrity and confidence in the police and judicial system in the broader sense,” Morgan said.
He said he would prefer the names of murder victims be made public.