OTTAWA — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Published on Saturday, Jun. 02, 2007 2:22AM EDT Last updated on Friday, Apr. 03, 2009 12:18PM EDT
Nine people who were given new identities through the RCMP's witness protection program have gone on to commit crimes over the past three years, yet their victims are not allowed to know they were harmed by paid police agents.
Records released recently through the Access to Information Act show those protected witnesses have used their aliases and government-issued lives to rob, defraud, steal and commit assault, among other things.
Of those nine, seven were kicked out of the program for their crimes, the documents show, but their identities remain unknown. One of the protected witnesses allowed to remain in the program was charged with uttering threats and drug possession, and the other was charged with theft.
Still, the RCMP insists the Witness Protection Program Act forbids it from revealing the true identities of witnesses who go bad – an assertion that has been called “nonsense” by one of the drafters of the law.
The recently released RCMP records do not include the case of agent E8060, an unemployed Victoria man named Richard Young.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen revealed that Mr. Young remained in the program even though a British Columbia judge ruled that he manufactured evidence. He went on to be convicted of killing someone under his new identity.
However, the RCMP has said that it would be illegal for the newspapers to reveal who he became or who he killed. Even his victim's family members are forbidden from being told the truth.
The RCMP has taken that same rigid stand against disclosure to the Commons public safety committee, which is reviewing the program. Assistant Commissioner Raf Souccar told the committee that such disclosure would have a “ripple effect,” scaring off police agents with vital information on mobsters, bikers and terrorists.
This week, the committee heard testimony that shows other programs are more upfront when one of their witnesses uses a new identity for criminal purposes. Of the 8,000 witnesses who have cycled through the U.S. federal program, which is known by the acronym WITSEC, a fraction have gone on to commit crimes, ranging from murder to fraud.
And every time that's happened, the U.S. Department of Justice has revealed the culprit's true identity, allowing the public to ask why the person was granted protection in the first place, said Gerald Shur, the Justice Department lawyer who founded the program.
Such information is particularly crucial for the victims of protected witnesses, Mr. Shur told the committee on Thursday.
“They certainly would have a right to know who that person really was,” he said. “By disclosing that, you give them some peace.”
Tom Wappel, a Liberal MP from Scarborough, tried for years to create a witness protection law, first introducing a failed private member's bill during the Conservative government of the 1980s and later persuading Herb Gray, a former Liberal solicitor-general, to push the law through.
The law was not designed to conceal the program's mistakes, Mr. Wappel said.
“It's there to protect people who are helping to enforce the laws of Canada, not to hide in that program in order to break those laws, and then hide behind that program to protect your identity once you've broken those laws. That's not the intent,” Mr. Wappel said.
“Having received the protection of Canada, they bit the hand that fed them by committing crimes – and that to me disqualifies them from further anonymity.”
The RCMP says Mr. Wappel is wrong, and that if Parliament wants it to unmask protectees who turn to crime, it needs to amend the section that deems it an offence to knowingly disclose, directly or indirectly, information about someone's new identity.