OTTAWA Globe and Mail Update

The Commons public safety committee passed a unanimous motion Thursday to review the witness protection program and the case of agent E8060, an RCMP informant who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for false information and later killed someone as a protected witness.

Joe Comartin, the NDP vice-chair of the committee, said recent news reports about the secret agent demand debate about whether Parliament should amend its witness protection law.

"It really does call into question how the program is being used," Mr. Comartin told the committee yesterday.

Rick Norlock, a Conservative committee member, said the case, as well as recent controversy over the RCMP pension plan, is "shaking the public's confidence in our most senior police force in our Dominion."

The review follows the publication of a story by The Globe and Mail and the Ottawa Citizen on Agent E8060, an unemployed Victoria, B.C., man named Richard Young.

In 2001, the informant persuaded a group of Asian teenagers to follow Mounties in their cars and stake out the RCMP's Victoria headquarters. He then told his Mountie handler that the teens were conducting counter-surveillance for a suspected drug kingpin.

The phony evidence earned him a spot in the witness protection program a contract that was upheld even after British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Dean Wilson called Mr. Young's evidence "a cruel charade."

While in the program, and under his new identity, he killed someone but under the Witness Protection Program Act, it is illegal to knowingly reveal Mr. Young's new identity or any details about his crime. It is forbidden to even tell the family of the deceased.

That rigid restriction will complicate the committee's digging, Mr. Comartin said after the meeting.

The only way Mr. Young's identity and crime can be lawfully revealed is if he consents to the release of the information, or if he blabbed about his protected status in such a way that Acting RCMP Commissioner Bev Busson is comfortable releasing it.

Acting Commissioner Busson can also expose him if she deems that it is in "the public interest" and necessary to investigate, or prevent, a serious offence. She may have a difficult decision to make, Mr. Comartin said.

"If I don't get satisfactory answers, I, and I expect the committee, will call upon ... her to exercise her discretion and revoke his protection," he said after the committee's meeting.

Mr. Comartin also speculated that some meetings might take place in camera because of the sensitivity surrounding the law.

On April 19, the committee is expected to get a general briefing on the program from the RCMP, as well as the departments of Justice and Public Safety. It will also assemble a witness list.

Mr. Comartin said he expects to call Tom Bulmer, the Victoria defence lawyer who exposed Mr. Young's scheme in court and has repeatedly called for a public inquiry into the conduct of the secret agent.

At yesterday's meeting, there was some disagreement about the focus of the review.

Mr. Comartin, who drafted the motion along with Liberal Sue Barnes, said he'd like to explore the particulars of the case, while Conservative Dave MacKenzie said he wanted to stick to the "global picture" of the witness protection program.