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

RCMP are looking for “an unknown man who wrapped his arms around” a female youth in Clayton Feb. 26. (Black Press file photo)
Youth assaulted by unknown man in Cloverdale

Mounties looking for ‘tall and thin’ Caucasian man in his 40’s with short dark brown hair

School Board Trustee candidate Joel Neufeld said his favourite children’s book is Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. (Special to The Star)
Langley School District trustee candidates pick favorite children’s books

Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, Robert Munch, and Dr. Seuss top the list

(File photo)
Township to hold COVID-safe baseball spring break baseball camps

Aldergrove minor baseball and North Langley Trappers run two week camps

The Langley School District has issued COVID-19 notifications for H.D. Stafford Middle and Blacklock Fine Arts Elementary schools. (Langley Schools)
The Langley School District has issued COVID-19 notifications for H.D. Stafford Middle and Blacklock Fine Arts Elementary schools. (Langley Schools)
Langley schools issued COVID-19 alerts, third this week for H.D. Stafford

As of Friday there are four local schools on the exposure list

Nesting season is marked after South Surrey preserve pair welcome first egg on Feb. 24, 2021. (Hancock Wildlife Foundation)
VIDEO: South Surrey bald eagle preserve welcomes first egg, marks nesting season

Second egg is expected Saturday afternoon and the babies will hatch in April

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Passengers aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, 1914 - Library and Archives Canada image
Abbotsford council is asked to rename street in memory of Komagata Maru victims

Most of 376 the passengers aboard ship were denied entry into Canada in 1914

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Most Read