Better witness protection co-operation sought

Alberta and Ontario are pushing for more federal recognition of their witness protection programs as part of a national revamp of the patchwork system intended to shield those who risk their safety to co-operate in criminal cases.

Alberta and Ontario are pushing for more federal recognition of their witness protection programs as part of a national revamp of the patchwork system intended to shield those who risk their safety to co-operate in criminal cases.

Provincial concerns — including frustrations in obtaining identity changes for protectees — are key to a long-promised federal remake of witness protection.

The federal witness protection program, administered by the RCMP, provides measures ranging from short-term protection to permanent relocation and identity changes. The Mounties spent more than $9 million on the program in 2011-12.

However, several provinces have their own programs, often providing short-term assistance.

The federal government has been working for several years on changes to the RCMP-led program following recommendations from a Commons committee and the commission of inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing.

A primary suggestion was making the federal program more independent.

The Air India commission said it was inappropriate for a police agency with an interest in ensuring sources agree to become witnesses to also make decisions about admission into a witness protection program.

“This is a conflict of interest,” said the commission’s 2010 report.

In late 2009 and early 2010, the federal government consulted the provinces and territories on the program, and documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show a number of provinces expressed concerns.

The Alberta government, in an April 2011 note to the federal Public Safety Department, called for amendments to the federal witness protection legislation to recognize provincial and territorial programs.

It also lamented the fact that protectees in provincial witness programs must be admitted, at least temporarily, into the federal program before being given new federal identity documents.

Alberta noted that municipal police agencies had trouble gaining such temporary admissions for secure name changes, adding the process often took a long time in any event.

“The facilitation of secure identity changes for provincial and territorial programs would be a welcome addition,” says the note.

“Experience shows that this has been one of the biggest obstacles in conducting effective long-term relocations of witnesses.”

Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, echoed Alberta’s concerns.

“We continue to urge the federal government to amend the Witness Protection Program Act to eliminate impediments to providing members of Ontario’s program with safe and timely access to new federal identity documents,” he told The Canadian Press.

“We also continue to press the federal government for changes to the federal Witness Protection Program that would improve the co-ordination between the federal and provincial programs.”

Though the Conservative government hasn’t yet come forward with changes, it has committed to drafting agreements between the RCMP and its federal partners to simplify the process of obtaining documents needed to give someone a new name.

It has also promised better training for co-ordinators and handlers of protectees and introduction of changes to ensure “more transparency and accountability” concerning decisions as to who gets into the witness program.

Jonathan Denis, Alberta solicitor general and public security minister, said his ministry is studying the federal plans. “We’re reviewing their proposals right now and we’ll draft a position,” he said in an interview.

At a recent meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers for justice and public safety, Ontario led a discussion of further changes to the Criminal Code to better protect witnesses as they give testimony.

The idea is to expand existing provisions to allow more people to testify outside the courtroom, behind a screen or by video conference when intimidation is a factor, said Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant.

Otherwise, some people “may be inclined to give false testimony or not testify at all,” he said in an interview.

“The provinces stood together on this and the federal government understood it as well, and I think you’ll see some further review.”

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

Just Posted

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

About $135,000 is available in grants for central Alberta organizations that are empowering women, girls and supporting gender-diverse people through their mission, activities or partnerships. Contributed photo
$135K in funding available in central Alberta for charities advancing gender equality

The Red Deer & District Community Foundation is providing $135,000 to local… Continue reading

Junction 42 Partnership Rest Area, located at highways 2 and 42 east of Penhold in Red Deer County, has welcomed its 100,000th visitor.
Photo from Red Deer County
Junction 42 highway rest area hits 100,000 visitors

Junction 42 Partnership Rest Area located on Highway 2 east of Penhold

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Sharon Hickin, general manager of the Days Inn Sylvan Lake and the new Lake House Diner, poses for a photo outside the new restaurant. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
Pandemic puts extra hurdles in place for new Sylvan Lake businesses

Over the past seven months numerous new businesses have opened in Sylvan Lake, despite the pandemic

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
The problem isn’t dispatching, it’s a shortage of ambulances

Having worked in EMS for more than 43 years, and having lobbied… Continue reading

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

March 14, 2019 - Head shot of Toronto Star columnist Heather Scoffield.    DAVE CHAN FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Opinion: Canada is missing a recovery plan

The glitches should have been a sign of what was to come.… Continue reading

A recent Lock it or Lose it campaign at Parkland Mall found only 35 per cent of drivers took action to make their vehicles less tempting to criminals. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Michael Dawe: Parkland Mall transformed region’s retail landscape

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 3, 1970, there was a major boost… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Fitting finale: Dodgers win title, Turner tests positive

Turner returns to the diamond about an hour after the game

Most Read