Good morning, Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the committee. Thank you for inviting us here today.
I am pleased to be here before you today, along with my colleague, Inspector Greg Bowen, who is the officer in charge of national headquarters human source and witness protection, and Mr. David Bird, counsel for RCMP legal services.
If I may, I'd like to begin by providing some context over the years relative to the witness protection program. In 1984, with the fight against major national and international drug smuggling rings becoming a priority, the RCMP established a witness protection program to protect individuals collaborating with the justice system. The witness protection program was administrative in nature and did not have any legislative framework. The program infrastructure consisted of experienced police officers and contacts across Canada who aided in the support of witness relocations and identity changes.
During the mid-1980s, most of the individuals who entered the RCMP witness protection program were in some way involved with major drug trafficking activities. Over the following years, the scope of witness protection grew to include other citizens who needed protection but were not directly involved in organized crime.
In 1994 a member of Parliament introduced a private member's bill in the House of Commons, Bill C-206, which sought to have the witness protection program's fundamental principles, criteria, and procedures defined in law. Though it was not passed, Bill C-206 received a great deal of support in the House of Commons. Subsequently, the government introduced Bill C-78, the Witness Protection Program Act, in an effort to make the witness protection program operate more effectively. It was designed to ensure that witness protection program applicants had a clear understanding of their rights, obligations, and the scope of protection that could be provided. In addition, the bill touched on admission criteria for witnesses, obligations of the administrators, and reporting requirements to the House of Commons.
In 1996 the federal witness protection program was given a statutory standing through the Witness Protection Program Act. This legislation was a significant milestone for Canadians, as it formalized, for the first time, a governance structure for witness protection in Canada. It is important to note, however, that the jurisprudence of the act is limited to the federal witness protection program, which is administered by the RCMP.
Today more than ever the federal witness protection program continues to play a critical and essential role in law enforcement's ability to effectively combat organized crime. The extreme violence demonstrated by organized crime, their extensive financial resources, and their preparedness to exact revenge upon those who speak out against them is well known. The federal witness protection program is one of the few available resources accessible to all Canadian law enforcement that can provide protection, emotional comfort, and support to witnesses who find themselves at risk as a result of their participation in the justice system.
It is important to note that the federal witness protection program is not the only program in Canada. The provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan all have their own provincial programs, and Alberta has expressed its intention to create a program. Two of the prairie provinces currently have legislated programs, and it is anticipated that Alberta's program legislation will come into effect in the near future. Ontario and Quebec have policy-based programs. Most urban and provincial policing agencies have witness protection units within their respective organizations.
I should add that having independent programs does not preclude these agencies from utilizing the FWPP. If, for example, a particularly challenging case arises, the RCMP may be called upon for assistance and the witness will be given consideration for entry in the federal program. These situations occasionally arise because the provincial or municipal programs were generally created to meet the short-term needs of the witness and are not necessarily designed to accommodate those requiring lifelong protection or change of identity.
I would also add that there is no dedicated federal funding for witness protection in Canada. This includes the federal witness protection program administered by the RCMP. This situation therefore creates impediments for the federal program and for smaller agencies who are investigating serious crimes but do not have sufficient resources to pay for witness protection. Currently, the RCMP expends approximately $7 million per year on witness protection; however, this number can easily fluctuate, depending upon the number and complexity of the cases presented.
The Witness Protection Program Act provides the framework for the federal program and defines protection, which may include relocation, accommodation, change of identity, counselling, and financial support for the purpose of ensuring the witness' security or to facilitate the witness' re-establishment or ability to become self-sufficient.
Once the commissioner establishes that a witness is suitable for admission to the witness protection program, the witness must enter into a protection agreement with the commissioner. All protection agreements contain the obligations of both parties. Under the Witness Protection Program Act, section 8, the commissioner must take reasonable steps to provide the protection referred to in the agreement to the protectee.
Section 11 of the Witness Protection Program Act states that it is an offence to knowingly disclose, directly or indirectly, information about the location or the change of identity of a protectee. It is also an offence to disclose such information about a former witness who is no longer under protection. However, it is not an offence for a protectee to disclose such information, if the disclosure does not endanger his or her safety, the safety of other protectees in the program, or does not compromise the witness protection program's integrity.
The commissioner may disclose the location or the change of identity of a protectee or former protectee under certain circumstances. Prior to disclosing any information, the commissioner must take reasonable steps to disclose his intentions to the protectee and allow the protectee an opportunity to respond. However, the commissioner is not obligated to do so if it would impede the investigation of an offence.
The commissioner may terminate protection if the protectee deliberately infringes against a condition of the protection agreement. The commissioner may also remove from the witness protection program a protectee who made a material misrepresentation or failed to disclose information relevant to his or her admission into the witness protection program. Prior to terminating the protection provided to a protectee, reasonable steps must be taken to notify the protectee of the decision and allow him or her a chance to make representations concerning the matter.
The Witness Protection Program Act also allows the Minister of Public Safety to enter into a reciprocal agreement with a foreign government or an international court or tribunal to admit foreign nationals into the witness protection program. In these instances, a foreigner cannot be admitted into Canada without the consent of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Minister of Public Safety. In such cases, the RCMP's role is to administer the agreement between the foreign country and its witness.
Witness protection is recognized as one of the most challenging programs within the RCMP. High risk by its very nature, the program must remain fluid in order to respond to the ever-changing demands placed upon the program by the changing Canadian criminal landscape, public expectations, and the demands made upon the program by both domestic and international law enforcement.
The federal witness protection program is the only program in Canada legislated to respond to the needs of all municipal, provincial, and federal law enforcement interests in Canada, the international policing community, and international tribunals. We share the concerns of our provincial and municipal colleagues relative to resource issues and the social challenges confronting witness protection initiatives in Canada. Of particular note are the unique demands placed upon the federal program as a result of expanding Canadian gang activity and the challenges of offering protection services to those associated with gangs who wish to come forward and provide witness testimony but are afraid to do so for fear of retribution.
The RCMP has been the focus of considerable scrutiny relative to the manner in which it administers the federal program in recent years; however, this scrutiny has been welcomed. Through this process the complexities and challenges of witness protection have been made public. As a result, in 2007 a review of the witness protection program was undertaken by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The result of the referred committee hearings was the development of a series of recommendations intended to make the federal witness protection program a more effective program.
These recommendations have been taken into consideration by the federal government and resulted in Public Safety Canada and the RCMP initiating a comprehensive review of the federal program and undertaking a series of in-depth consultations with federal and provincial partners and other stakeholders, with a focus on how to make the Federal Witness Protection Program more effective, efficient and transparent.
During the aforementioned consultation process, it was made clear by some provinces that changes were required to the Witness Protection Program Act to facilitate their ability to obtain federal identification documentation, without having to enter their protected persons into the Federal Witness Protection Program which is the current practice.
There was also continued reference to funding challenges for municipalities and provinces in order to offset costs associated to placing protectees into the federal program.
These and other issues identified by our federal and provincial partners and stakeholders became the focus point for discussions and debate by Public Safety and the RCMP as we continue to work together in an effort to promote necessary changes to enhance the federal witness protection program. At the same time, both Public Safety and the RCMP want to ensure that changes to the federal program not only respond to the concerns of partners and stakeholders where possible, but also to ensure that any changes to federal legislation or the federal program will enhance the protection of witnesses in Canada.
Aside from legislative issues, the RCMP has developed a draft document that, once finalized, will introduce a series of recommendations and proposed changes to the federal program that are intended to result in a much more contemporary program. It will be more protectee-focused and more effectively promote public safety, it will focus on the safety of witness protection personnel and critical partners involved in the witness protection process, and it will better meet the needs and expectations of the Canadian public and judicial system.
Thank you for allowing me to make these opening comments, and now my colleagues and I will be pleased to answer your questions.