Edmonton

Inside the secret world of Alberta witness protection

It's not like Hollywood. There is no Tommy Lee Jones or Texas Rangers or U.S. Marshals Service providing protection.

Some things we know about the program, and some things we never will

Things we know about the Alberta Witness Protection Program

1. It's not like Hollywood. There is no Tommy Lee Jones or Texas Rangers or U.S. Marshals Service providing protection. In this case, a pair of Edmonton police officers from the Source Protection Unit were assigned to protect the safety and security of Vince Shawyer while he was trying to gain admission to the program.

2. It's administered by Alberta Justice under the Witness Security Act, but is under the umbrella of the federal Witness Protection Program Act. Most details of the program are cloaked in secrecy that is mandated by that provincial and federal legislation.

3. The only way a person can be considered for witness protection is to be recommended by a law enforcement agency. That referral can only be made with the consent of the witness. The protection can extend to the witness and his or her family.

4. Admission to the program is determined by the Witness Security Panel, according to the Witness Security Act. The panel chair and other members are appointed by the Justice minister. Their identities are protected.

5. If no criminal charges are laid, or if the case does not go to trial, then the protected witness may be removed from the program.

6.  Entering the Witness Protection Program is not for life.

"Every case is unique," said Officer X. "But substantially, when a person's in this program, it isn't forever. But his contact information remains with our program in case he's got questions five to 10 years down the road. By that time, hopefully the threat will have diminished. He'll have gone about a normal life and no longer have any need for protective services."

7. Refusing to abide by the rules is enough to get a person kicked out of the program. Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson asked if the following examples would be enough for removal. Officer X agreed that going to the bar and telling everybody you're in the witness protection program or calling your girlfriend in another city and revealing where you're living would be cause for removal. It's not clear if Shawyer did those things. In general terms, Officer X said, "If they can't follow those pre-admission rules, they're not in a position to take their safety or security seriously, then they're not a good candidate.

Things we'll never know about the Alberta Witness Protection Program

1. What payments are made to witnesses in the program.

2. What steps are taken to protect witnesses in the program. (relocation, name or identity change, safe houses etc.)

3. How many witnesses are in the program.

4. How much the program costs taxpayers.

5. The success or fail rate of the program.

Cloak and Dagger Testimony from Officers X and Y

Extraordinary measures were taken to protect the identities of the two police officers who testified at the voir dire. The judge ordered them to provide their business cards to the clerk of the court.  

They confirmed their names were correct by silently reading the cards, which were then placed in a sealed envelope. The men were allowed to swear an oath using the pseudonyms Officer X and Officer Y.

During their testimony, a group of students entered the courtroom. The judge explained the testimony was sensitive and asked if they would mind leaving. They did.

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