Edmonton police not naming accused part of 'disturbing' trend, lawyer says

The decision by the Edmonton Police Service not to release the name of a man accused in a hit-and-run incident for “mental health reasons” goes against a long tradition of transparency in the criminal justice system, says lawyer Steven Penney.

Police release name of man charged in hit and run hours after refusing to name him

The Edmonton Police Service was investigating a homicide in the Strathearn neighbourhood on Tuesday. EPS refused to name the victim or the accused. (Josee St-Onge)

The decision by the Edmonton Police Service not to release the name of a man accused in a hit and run for "mental health reasons" goes against a long tradition of transparency in the criminal justice system, says lawyer Steven Penney.

Police first refused to release the name of the accused on Wednesday, but police spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard issued the name hours later, saying police were "now in a position" to release it.

Cuyler Maringer, 21, is charged with failure to stop at the scene of collision and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

The original decision is part of a "disturbing" trend people should be concerned about, Penney told CBC News Wednesday.

"When violent crimes are committed, when people are victimized, the public needs to understand and be aware of who is being affected, and how it's affecting them," said Penney, a law professor at the University of Alberta.

The information is also crucial for members of the media, who need to inform the public about the workings of the criminal justice system, he said. 

Secret Strathearn homicide

Edmonton police also refused this week to release the name of a woman who was killed in the Strathearn neighborhood Tuesday, as well as the name of the man accused of  killing her. 

Police justified the decision in a news release, writing that releasing the names "does not serve an investigative purpose and the EPS has a duty to protect the privacy rights of the victims and their families."

Penney disagrees with that approach.

"To leave it solely to the discretion of the police and their lawyers to decide on a case-by-case basis, whether they believe that it's in the public interest to disclose this information, whether it has some sort of  investigative benefit for them, I think is a mistake."

Victim names not released

Data compiled by CBC shows the victims have been named by EPS in six of the 11 homicides reported to police since the beginning of 2018.

Secrecy on the part of the police is short-sighted, since the names of victims and accused can be discovered through public court documents, said Penney. 

"To have the police refuse to release this information, when it's going to be released in most cases eventually anyway, I'm not sure serves any legitimate public purpose."

The Alberta government should clarify through legislation or directives to the police that names should be disclosed, unless there are exceptional circumstances, said Penney.

University of Alberta law professor Steven Penney says it shouldn't be up to police to decide whether or not to release people's names. (CBC)

With files from Janice Johnston