The RCMP has quietly stopped releasing the names of people who die in car crashes and other tragic accidents across Canada.
The police force says it is following the Privacy Act. However, RCMP headquarters will not disclose why it has started enforcing the policy now.
In a written statement, RCMP spokeswoman Julie Gagnon says there are exemptions under which personal information may be disclosed, including when:
- The information is already publicly available (Section 69(2)).
- Disclosure is necessary to further an investigation (Section 8(2)).
- In the opinion of the head of the institution, public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure, or disclosure would clearly benefit the individual to whom the information relates (Section 8(2)(m)).
For example, RCMP may decide to release a name in a homicide when it needs information from the public.
"However, even when an exemption may apply, it is discretionary and the RCMP will balance the interests in disclosing the information against the privacy interests involved," Gagnon wrote.
'Very likely makes their jobs easier'
A privacy lawyer at the Halifax-based firm McInnes Cooper said he doesn't understand the timing of the decision.
"There certainly haven't been any legislative changes that have happened to our privacy laws that would cause this, nor have there been any significant findings from the privacy commissioner or any high-profile circumstances that I can think of that might have brought about this change in policy," said David Fraser.
Fraser also doesn't buy the sudden affection for the law.
"Not disclosing the information very likely makes their jobs easier, and not having to ask the next of kin or the family to disclose whether they can disclose this information, it's one less thing that they have to do," he said.
"It's always easier — we see this across government — to just point to the privacy legislation as a reason to not do something … to not provide information to the media."
'They're not a statistic'
A Nova Scotia mother of two young men killed in a Cape Breton car crash says she's upset by the policy change.
Mary Anne MacIntyre lost her two sons, Morgan Christopher MacIntyre, 19, and Logan Patrick MacIntyre, 17, in a single-vehicle crash near their Judique home in July 2013.
"In my situation, I want them to be an identity," she said.
Joel Cecil Chandler, a 20-year-old man from Port Hood, N.S., also died in the crash. Four others were injured.
"They're not a statistic. I just don't agree with that." said MacIntyre.
"Everybody's different, but at least you would have the choice in that situation. You're not only a parent but you are a grieving parent. You have so much loss. You should have that right. Of all times, you should have that right to be able to say, 'No, I don't want my child's name to be reported,' or 'Yes, I want people to know.'"
The 18-year-old driver in that case will be sentenced Thursday for dangerous driving causing death.
In small communities where tragedies tend to have the most impact, people are trying to figure out what's at stake.
Community newspapers arguably have the most to lose.
"While I do understand that privacy laws have to be followed, I'm not sure it's that helpful because if the names of victims aren't made public then it's really neighbourhood gossip and social media that might fill in some erroneous information and I don't think that's really what the public needs at a time like this," said Dave Stephens, news director at Lighthouse Now.
"They need to know who has been involved, what family members might need their support and it's unfortunate that information isn't made available in a timely manner."