Privacy laws apply to the dead: Police chiefs could withhold IDs of homicide victims
'There is just a lawful expectation of privacy even for deceased folks. That's where you start'
Alberta's police chiefs have agreed in principal to new rules that could mean the names of homicide victims will be withheld from the public.
"There is just a lawful expectation of privacy, even for deceased folks," Medicine Hat police Chief Andy McGrogan, the president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, said Wednesday. "That's where you start.
"There are steps that we take to get to naming homicide victims in certain circumstances."
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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 said releasing the identity has to be in the "public good" and noted 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 released the names of all 17 of the city's homicide victims so far this year.
"Ideologically, I don't believe it changes anything," Chaffin said. "But it allows us a moment of reflection to say, 'Have we done the right thing?' "
Edmonton practice of naming homicide victims much different
There have been 29 homicides so far this year in Edmonton. Police have refused to release the names of more than one-third of the victims.
Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht said the new framework closely follows the practice already in place.
"It is important to be transparent ... to be open ... but you also have to respect the rights of the victims," Knecht said.
"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 RCMP was included in the framework discussions and agreed in principle to the new policy, but will continue to follow federal privacy legislation in deciding whether to release the names of homicide victims.
The RCMP has handled 26 homicide files so far this year and has released the names in all but three cases.
With files from the Canadian Press