Homicide victim ID'ing policy in Regina to be discussed next week — in private

The Regina Police Service has hit pause on a change that would see the force stop automatically releasing the names of murder victims.

Advocates of domestic violence victims say names should be released to shed stereotypes

Les Parker, a spokesperson for Regina police, said interpreters would help both police and the public, especially newcomers who are learning English. (CBC)

Mariann Rich understands the sensitivity around the releasing of the names of homicide victims. 

In 2014, her sister Shirley Parkinson was killed in a murder-suicide in Unity, Sask.
Shirley Parkinson, 56, was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide on September 10, 2014. (Submitted by Mariann Rich)

"At the time our biggest fear was having media on doorsteps, when we could hardly put one foot in front of another and deal with just life, because our foundation was so rocked," Rich said. 

Police board to decide issue next week

Next week, the city's board of police commissioners will discuss proposed changes by the Regina Police Service around the practice of naming homicide victims.

It comes after the force quietly planned to stop automatically releasing the names — including the identity of 35-year-old Shawn Coghill discovered dead in May.

At the time, a spokesperson said police would apply discretion as to which homicide victims to name and to not, evaluating factors like a risk to public safety. The switch was ultimately put on hold following backlash from critics, including Saskatchewan's justice minister. 

For the change, police cited its reading of freedom-of-information legislation, which it fell under as of this year. It also pointed to the fact victims' names are made public once charges are laid, as well as consideration for families and a policy adopted by Alberta's chiefs of police.

RPS Spokesperson Les Parker said Wednesday the issue will be discussed during the board's private session next Wednesday, meaning the public or media is not permitted.  A decision will be made public when the board meets again in August, he said.

Parker said police, its oversight board and the privacy commissioner have all been speaking about this issue.

"There's going to be stakeholders in every story. We have the families to consider who want their privacy respected, we also have the public who may take an interest in the investigation and want to know — that may include the name of the victim. However each case we will measure everything accordingly and it'll be up to the chief to decide," he said.

The Edmonton Police Service does not name every homicide victim. 

According to a CBC News analysis, of 18 homicide victims this year so far in Edmonton, seven went unnamed by police. 

PATHS's Crystal Giesbrecht says she understands the privacy needs of families, but says releasing the names of homicide victims is important to raise awareness about the issue of domestic homicide and femicide. (CBC News)

Names should be released, says PATHS

An organization for victims of domestic violence said it has not been consulted, but believes homicide victims should be named.

Crystal Giesbrecht, director of research and communications of Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), said naming victims is important so they are not forgotten.

She said it's an important police practice in cases of murder-suicides where there is no court process and the names would otherwise be kept silent, as well as in homicides that go unsolved.

"I also think that when identity of victims is released, it goes a long way to showing that this can happen to people in all types of socioeconomic groups and all different walks of life," Giesbrecht explained.

Families need time

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of domestic violence among all of the Canadian provinces. 
Mariann Rich says families need time, but believes the names of domestic homicide victims need to be released. (CBC)

Rich believes the names of domestic homicide victims should be released, but not immediately so to give families privacy to come to terms with their loved one's death. 

"I would be really sad to see a law that says names will never be released. I think we need to figure out and talk with families and I think that's government roles - what will work for everybody?"   

Giesbrecht say naming victims of homicide and ​femicide is important not to just raise awareness but try and learn from their cases and prevent future deaths.

She pointed to a project by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, which she participates as a panel member.

The project collects the names of women and girls killed by men this year. So far, it has counted 79 victims.

Giesbrecht said the information is compiled based on media reports. A handful of the entries read "Name not released."

"If it's not reported on and if we don't have those names, you can't track the scope of the problem," she said.

Don Morgan expects Regina police to continue to release the names of homicide victims. (CBC News)

Justice minister expects names to be released

In a statement provided to CBC, Saskatchewan Attorney General and Justice Minister Don Morgan reiterated the service retains the ability to release victim names, and says the privacy commissioner is keeping an eye on the situation.

"He has made recommendations as to when some sensitivities might arise. We do not think legislative changes are necessary. We anticipate names will be released as they have in the past," read the statement.​

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca