Edmonton Journal columnist calls out cops on no-name policy: ‘I find it baffling’
Edmonton police will not budge.
About 18 months ago, the police service changed its policy and now often refuses to name victims of crime and sometimes the accused.
This week, two criminal cases caught the attention of journalists.
Edmonton police refused to release the names of both of the accused.
“I am fired up about this,” said Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons.
So fired up, Simons wrote another column chastising the Edmonton Police Service and its argument that it is bound by privacy laws.
“We don’t protect the privacy of somebody who is accused of a serious offence,” Simons said.
Edmonton’s police chief Rod Knecht has spoken out about the decision to withhold names; he even wrote a letter to the Edmonton Journal and blasted Simons for her public name crusade.
Knecht said on the advice of his police department’s lawyers, the EPS is careful to not breach Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).
“I find it very baffling,” Simons said.
University of Alberta law professor Steven Penney doesn’t buy Knecht’s defence either.
Penney called the EPS naming protocol a disturbing trend — one that lacks transparency and accountability.
“My gosh,” Penney said. “I mean, when something serious happens in your community, I think it’s something you need to know. Not just what happened, but who it happened to.”
“To hide that name, to refuse to release it on the part of the police doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.”
The names of the accused and often the victims are released in open court.
Court documents revealed Ahmadou Bamba Mbaye was charged with second-degree murder and possession of a weapon dangerous to the public (a knife) in the death of 33-year-old Bigue Ndao.
Hours after police said they would not release the name of the 21-year-old accused of a hit and run earlier this week due to “mental health” reasons, EPS communications later revealed Cuyler Maringer had been charged with failing to stop at the scene of a collision and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
“The reason we name people isn’t to embarrass them or humiliate them or hold them up to public ridicule,” said Simons. “It’s to make sure we don’t have secret trials.”
Simons pointed to Edmonton’s murder rate being one of the highest in the country and said if the public doesn’t know the names of the accused, the cases and social trends cannot be tracked.
The award-winning columnist said keeping domestic violence behind closed doors is even more troubling, and it’s not just police. Simons said readers have accused her of being nosy and a “voyeur,” and they don’t understand her obsession with police policy.
“I think when people say, ‘We don’t want to know about murders in our community because it makes us feel uncomfortable’ — that’s a problem.”
Calgary police are bound by the same provincial FOIP laws, yet that service has taken a different approach and continues to name the accused.
“When it comes to publicly identifying someone who has died as the result of a criminal act, we always consider FOIP and the rights of the deceased,” the Calgary Police Service said. “We often consult with our service’s information and privacy lawyer, but in each case we’ve been able to release the name based on it being in the public interest or to further an investigation, among other reasons.
“As far as naming an offender, once the accused has seen a justice of the peace the charge becomes in the public domain and we can publicly release it. Mental health issued of course factor into any decision, but are often outweighed by transparency.”
Simons blames the lawyers.
“I think their lawyers are giving them bad advice,” she said. “I don’t blame front-line officers who have done stellar work this week.”
“If you want Edmonton to be a safe place for you and your family and your kid, you ought to know when murders are happening and why.”
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