We often run stories in which it is stated names have not been released, or won’t be released, at this time. We’ve had questions as to why this is.
Whether or not a name is released is a decision that is made before the information comes to the news outlet.
In the case of criminal activity, sometimes we receive releases from the RCMP after the court appearance of suspects that have been arrested, in which case they name the individuals charged. It all hinges on the Privacy Act, which governs the personal information handling practices of federal institutions. Once a suspect is charged in court, it becomes a matter of public record, therefore the RCMP are free to release names, and that sometimes includes victims as well as suspects.
If the release is sent to us before the court appearance of a suspect or suspects, names are not included. When we follow up on the story, we are able to obtain the names from their court appearance.
That being said, if a publication ban is ordered by the court, such as in the case of when naming a suspect could lead to the victim of sexual assault being identified, neither the RCMP or the media can release the name.
Young offenders’ names are not released according to law.
In the case of a death or deaths, RCMP don’t release names unless the next of kin have been notified and agree to the release. (Readers may have noticed that at the time of the Humboldt bus crash that killed members of the Bronco’s hockey team, the names of the injured were not released by RCMP, due to the Privacy Act.)
Exceptions to these policies are when police are seeking information to further an investigation or when public safety is at risk.
Across Canada, there are controversies regarding the release or withholding of names of victims, particularly victims of homicide, and when judicial transparency should outweigh investigatory prerogative. Both RCMP and various police forces have been criticized. The Battlefords, so far, have been free of such controversies.