RCMP overrides rights of bereaved families
Five months ago with great fanfare, the Conservative government passed the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. “This will be a quantum leap forward for victims and their families,” proclaimed Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
The legislation stipulates that victims of crime and their immediate relatives have a statutory right to information about all stages of the case; protection if they wish it; participation in the justice system and restitution where possible.
How is it, then, that the RCMP routinely withholds the names of victims of accidents, car crashes and crimes in defiance of the wishes of their families? The national police force says it is bound by the Privacy Act. But the 30-year-old act does not require police to override the right of victims’ families to have their loved ones publicly identified. It was never meant to prevent neighbours and social agencies from supporting grieving relatives.
Until this year the RCMP released the names of victims with their consent or the permission of their surviving relatives. Now it says it must comply with the Privacy Act, regardless of the wishes of bereaved families.
“I wanted people to know my sons,” said Mary Anne MacIntyre of Judique, a small Cape Breton community where 19-year-old Morgan MacIntyre and his 17-year-old brother Jordan were killed in a car crash two years ago. “Being Victim A or Victim B is just, to me, feels so cold.”
Sgt. Greg Cox of the RCMP says the bereaved mother cannot waive the right to privacy. “You can’t give permission to release someone else’s information. It’s not yours to give.” (A third young man was killed and four were injured in the collision.)
There are two obvious remedies to this problem. The RCMP could disclose only the names of MacIntyre’s sons. Or it could seek the consent of the other victims or their next of kin. But that requires effort. It is easier to invoke the Privacy Act. It is more convenient to adopt a blanket non-disclosure stance.
If the federal Conservatives are truly committed to “putting victims at the very epicentre of our justice system” a timely reminder to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson would be in order.