KAWARTHA LAKES-The Kawartha Lakes Police Service is considering a major change to its media policy.
At Thursday’s Police Service Board meeting, Chief Mark Mitchell recommended no longer releasing the names of people accused of most crimes so as not to stigmatize them.
“When I was doing some researching this, the two things that jumped out at me as I describe it is a balance of priorities,” Mitchell told the board. “Police agencies should be open and transparent with the public and that would favour the release of as much information as possible. That has to be balanced with the risk of unnecessarily stigmatizing and shaming individuals and I think one of the key elements for this to me was, is this a matter of public interest or is the public just interested?”
Mitchell provided an example.
“Impaired driving is absolutely a matter of public interest, it’s a matter of risk to our community and our community should know what that level of risk is, but does that mean that an individual person charged with impaired driving, is their name a matter of public interest? I don’t believe that it is.”
Ontario Regulation 265/98, Disclosure of Personal Information, establishes the legal framework for police services to release information to the public. When a person is charged with a criminal offence, the police may release certain information, including the person’s name. The name of an accused person is still public information and
can be obtained through the courts.
Mayor Doug Elmslie, who sits on the board, said he could see would straddle the fence on the issue.
“I think you may have hit a good balance here I like what you are proposing. I look at two things, the publishing of some of these names and the stigma attached to it as you pointed out and you know, suppose the person is found not guilty of the charge? Where do they go to get their reputation back because once their name is out there the are legions of people who will think the worst.” Elmslie explained. “On the other hand, is there an element that publishing the names is a deterrent going forward? People see it and think I’m not going to do that because I don’t want my name published, I don’t want to be associated with that it’s my reputation.”
Fellow board member Valmay Barkey agreed with the Mayor on the deterrent factor.
“I think that deterrent is the key thing for me and in some situations where, for example, drunk driving, there’s an objective measurement that can’t be found typically not guilty.” said Barkey. “I will recall when Australia started publishing the names of people in the paper, drunk driving diminished so I think that’s our concern. Exactly the cause and effect.”
Mitchell explained that they would continue to release names in cases where there was serious bodily harm or death or if they feel it is “truly in the public interest” which Mitchell admitted would be subjective.
The motion to change the policy passed and will come back to the board before final implementation.
“This is a directional approval proposal and the final policy and its implementation will come before us so we will have an opportunity to see exactly how it will be implemented,” said Barkey.
There is a trend amongst some other police services in the province to move to a model where names are not released in all cases as a default. Peterborough Police made this change months ago. The OPP, Durham Regional Police and Toronto police continue to release names of the accused.
According to Chief Mitchell, the media liaison officer, Sergeant Hagarty, researched policies from different police partners around the province. Mitchell says their decisions were also informed by their 2021 public consultation process, particularly the focus
group discussions on this issue.
In a report on the public consultation survey released by police in June 2021, some participants in the focus group mentioned that the police “should not pick and choose who they do and do not release names for”. They felt police should either release all names or release no names at all according to the focus group. One participant mentioned that “it can be damaging to have the details of an individual’s name and life in the paper”. This participant believed that releasing this information does no good for both the community and the individual according to the survey.
The police service told the board they “researched” the topic with the local media and provided their perspective to board members. However, Kawartha 411 was not consulted or asked for our views on the matter.