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 is a staff writer with the Surrey Now-Leader. He can be reached via email at tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com.

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

Just Posted

A Grade 8 class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
B.C.’s return-to-school plan good, but Surrey teachers hope there is room for adjustments

Surrey school district to receive $1.76M of the $25.6M provincial pandemic-related funding

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Pier has reportedly been unused for a long time

A mixed-use development with 69 market rental units and 10 commercial units is proposed for the 2300-block of King George Boulevard. (Thinkspace rendering)
Pair of South Surrey apartment proposals move forward

Council gives third reading to rezoning applications for market-rental and residential projects

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

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

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Most Read