Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak as well on Bill C-206, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses.
As we have already learned law enforcement agencies provide protection to their sources and to witnesses where there is a threat of retribution as a result of either the source informing on the criminal activity or a witness providing crucial testimony in a criminal proceeding. Generally witness protection requirements arise out of cases involving the most serious charges and by that I mean charges which upon conviction attract the heaviest penalties. Probably we are most familiar in this area with charges such as trafficking in large quantities of drugs, murder, armed robbery, and other conspiratorial crimes involving elements of organized crime.
It is obvious that the more serious the offence and the stiffer the penalty upon conviction, the greater risk to an informant or witness. As the threat becomes more serious to the witness of course, the more comprehensive must be the protection of that witness.
Witness protection programs are a valuable tool in law enforcement and in some areas an invaluable tool. They have been developed in varying degrees across the country by different police forces and services. The types of services available under a witness protection plan also vary according to the individual case. They vary as well according to the resources that an individual police department may have.
Examples of these services which are currently available in Canada include psychological counselling, escorts to and from the court house or the prosecutor's office, guarding a witness' residence at crucial times or on a full time basis if need be during a trial, documents in a witness' name, housing upon relocating a witness to a new location, transportation of the witness' private property to a new home, payment of basic living expenses to a witness for a period of time or assistance in obtaining employment.
In Canada, depending upon the capabilities of the individual police force, these services have provided some degree of protection to informants and witnesses but again administered individually through different police services.
Of all of these programs however the most comprehensive is the RCMP source witness protection program. It was originally established in the early 1980s for the RCMP to use, but now it is increasingly used by other police forces and services across the country.
The need for RCMP assistance would arise primarily when an informant or witness must be relocated to another province and where that police force needs to obtain some form of federal assistance, such as federal documentation in a new name for the witness or source. The RCMP has offices in every province and every territory. They have an extensive witness protection capability. It is easy to see why other agencies seek the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
There is no other department and no other agency in Canada that can facilitate and co-ordinate the various aspects of assistance and protection that are involved in a witness protection relocation.
These considerations of witness protection are not just going on in Canada. In fact, world wide there is a growing interest in the criminal justice community in the enhancement of witness protection services and the creation of national witness protection programs. This is in part most likely a result of the global growth in organized criminal activity and increased reliance on the use of informants to obtain convictions.
Here in Canada we too are examining existing witness protection services in light of increased organized crime and shrinking law enforcement budgets. To that end in 1992 a survey was undertaken of all police forces in Canada. This survey had a twofold aim. First, the government wanted to obtain information on police witness protection capabilities in general. Second, the government wanted to know to what extent provincial and municipal police services seek and obtain assistance from the mounted police source witness protection program.
Questionnaires were sent to 393 police services across the country and responses were received from 284. Only data for three years prior to 1992 was requested.
The great majority of police services, in fact 88 per cent of them, said that they had not used the RCMP witness protection program over the three years preceding the date of the survey. They had not done so primarily because they just did not have cases in which protection was necessary. This comes as no great surprise to the government because most cases involving witness protection occur in large urban areas.
The survey also shows that a very small number of provinces either have or are considering developing a standardized provincial witness program within their province.
We have to bear in mind that regardless of individual provincial programs, there will always be a need for an agency such as the RCMP to arrange out of province relocations. For example, should Nova Scotia wish to relocate a witness to British Columbia, it is probable that the provincial program would not have the reach and would not be able to provide for witnesses' various needs in British Columbia. As it stands, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police source witness protection program can and does accommodate relocated witnesses from one end of the country to the other.
The survey also revealed that 15 police services can provide some degree of witness protection. Again, this protection does
not include out of province relocation and is limited according to the availability of personnel and other resources.
Twenty-three police forces indicated that they had used the RCMP program in the past three years, primarily to facilitate name change and relocation. Of these, over 50 per cent were satisfied with existing witness protection arrangements including their own arrangements and those within the RCMP program.
The greatest concern of those expressing dissatisfaction with existing witness protection arrangements was lack of resources, in particular personnel. Another concern was the need for standardized witness protection procedures that are clearly understood by all local police services.
Finally, the survey pointed out that mainly due to a lack of resources, witness protection is not equally available to all police services.
Based on this preliminary survey it is clear that an effective witness protection program is a crucial part of the law enforcement community's response to growing incidents of organized crime and other types of serious crime. Further, this is a matter that requires close attention to the various needs of the general police community who are the potential users of this service and we have to pay special attention to their financial capabilities.
I believe that particularly in these times there is a requirement on the part of the government to further only the most cost-efficient and effective programs in co-operation with all the relevant players. I would submit that there is yet some work to be done before the government proceeds with legislation on this issue. I am thinking here of further consultations with the relevant players to define the parameters of an effective witness protection program.
Once these issues have been explored and decided on, the government will be in a much better position to bring forward legislation on witness protection services.