Stronger witness security program to help take down gangs

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    Mike Farnworth

    Victoria: To encourage more people with knowledge of murders, drug trafficking and other gang-led crimes to share details with police, British Columbia is proposing a stronger witness security management and support program.

    “People with intimate details of the most serious crimes, or the activities of gangs and organized crime on our streets, should not feel their life will be in danger if they do the right thing and tell police,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “We’re taking action now to help ensure the co-operation of witnesses with new measures that build on federal witness protection. To combat gun and gang violence, what is required is a multi-pronged approach, which is what we are working on and this proposed legislation supports that.”

    Most organized crime cases in B.C. hinge on testimony from an accused person’s former accomplices and informants. However, the application process for the federal program can lead to delays and stringent program requirements can cause low witness retention. These complications compromise B.C. prosecutions and frustrate investigating police agencies that have often worked for months to secure witness testimony.

    If passed, the proposed witness security act will establish a provincial program dedicated to securely managing witnesses and co-operating co-accused, complementing the existing federal program. The act was developed to address the uniqueness of crime here in B.C. and will provide extra capacity to the police and Crown, which until now, have had to rely solely on the federal witness protection program.

    Like programs in a number of provinces and the City of Montreal, B.C.’s approach will help witnesses to safely attend trial and provide testimony. Beyond this focus on their security, the provincial program will facilitate treatment services for mental health challenges and addictions, name and identity changes, and job training.

    “The witness security act will be one more tool that will help us to destabilize gangs and support prosecutions,” said Kevin Hackett, assistant commissioner, BC RCMP Criminal Operations – Federal, Investigative Services and Organized Crime. “It reinforces the fact that there can be a successful way for those who choose to exit the gang lifestyle, do the right thing and change their life.”

    Quick Facts:

    • Program development is underway with ongoing input from stakeholders and subject matter experts, including the RCMP, provincial and federal Crown, and other jurisdictions.
    • The program is targeted for implementation in 2019-20.