Minister of Justice hopes to clear the way for police to name homicide victims
Don Morgan says it's in public's interest to know information, in event of homicide
When the province brought police services under its privacy and freedom of information regulations, it had an unintended consequence on the naming of homicide victims, according to Saskatchewan's Minister of Justice and Attorney General Don Morgan.
Morgan said some police services interpreted the wording of the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Regulations to mean that the deceased in a homicide investigation had the right to privacy until a charge was laid. As a result, the Regina Police Service decided to stop naming some homicide victims in its public releases.
"We wanted to clarify that our legislative intent was that names should be released as soon as possible after a homicide is discovered," said Morgan, explaining people may want to know what's happening in their town or city, and take safety precautions in the event of a homicide.
On Jan. 22, the province made an amendment to The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Regulations. The amendment, recommended by Morgan, explicitly states that police services are permitted to "disclose to the public the name of a deceased person whose death is being investigated as a homicide."
The amendment also applies to Investigative Services and Security Intelligence Units within the Ministry of Corrections and Policing.
"We wanted to make it abundantly clear that the Privacy Commissioner's interpretation did not apply to either correction workers where there has been a homicide or to police officers," said Morgan.
Despite the amendment, Saskatoon Police Service spokesperson Julie Clark said SPS will not change its conduct around the naming of homicide victims.
"We are continuing our practice of not naming homicide victims, unless requested otherwise by the family of the deceased," said Clark.
The Regina Police Service was not able to comment on Friday. In the past, the RPS has opted to act in line with recommendations from the information and privacy commissioner and will not release the homicide victim's name if:
- The identity of the victim was not verified.
- Next of kin has not been notified.
- Next of kin asks the name be withheld and the police chief determines the release of the name would be an invasion of privacy.
- The police chief determines that the release of a name "would be detrimental to the investigation."
- That it's not in the interest of the public.
- Releasing the name would be an invasion of privacy which outweighs the public interest.
- The chief considers whether or not "the purpose in question" can be achieved with releasing de-identified information instead.
Morgan said the privacy commissioner has taken the position that a deceased person still has rights to privacy. However, he takes a different view and hopes the amendment will allow the old practice of naming homicide victims by default to come back into common practice in Saskatchewan.
"We certainly don't want to invade people's privacy unnecessarily, but where somebody has been a victim of a homicide, we just think it's generally good policy for that information to be out."