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Privacy laws apply to the dead: police chiefs could withhold ID of homicide victims

CALGARY — Alberta’s police chiefs have agreed in principal to new rules that could mean the names of homicide victims are withheld from the public.

August 15, 2017  By The Canadian Press

“There is just a lawful expectation of privacy even for deceased folks. That’s where you start,” Medicine Hat Police Chief Andy McGrogan, the president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, said earlier this month. “There are steps that we take to get to naming homicide victims in certain circumstances.”

Eleven Alberta chiefs adopted a framework at a meeting in Calgary that lays out how and when police forces name homicide victims in investigations based on advice from lawyers, senior police officers, Alberta’s solicitor generals department and the provincial privacy commissioner.

The document says releasing the identity has to be in the “public good” and notes families of the deceased should be considered as additional victims.

“Public interest does not trump privacy,” said Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin. “We have to figure out how they work well together. Have we properly, soberly considered the issues at play before we release names?”

But Chaffin said he doesn’t foresee any major changes in Calgary, which has traditionally released the name of murder victims.

“I don’t believe it changes anything for us but allows us a moment of reflection to say have we done the right thing?”

The approach closely follows the policy that has already been in place in Edmonton.

“It is important to be transparent … to be open … but you also have to respect the rights of the victims,” said Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht.

“We have to defend why we’re releasing the name and, conversely, we have to defend why we’re not releasing the name. I don’t think we’ll satisfy everybody, every time.”

The police chiefs have also put together suggested amendments for the Alberta Police Act.

They include a call for an independent, civilian-led oversight body, a more streamlined public complaint process and more support for First Nations police services. The chiefs said the act hasn’t been overhauled for years.

“We have to move on it. It’s time. It’s very frustrating for even people that complain under the act to get a result,” said McGrogan. “We have very limited mechanisms for quick results for resolutions that are a little more modern.”

The association also discussed the legalization of marijuana coming on July 1, 2018.

“This timeline of July 2018 sounds like a long ways away but that rapidly is going to be upon us. We know we have to meet those timelines,” said Chaffin.

“We’ll have to learn quickly. We’ll have to adapt quickly and get moving.”

The chiefs say they are largely concerned about public protection, including impaired driving.

“There’s a lot out there that’s unanswered and I think everyone acknowledges that but it looks like the train’s coming down the track and we all need to do what we can to be as ready as we can for it,” McGrogan said.

– Bill Graveland

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2017

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