Tuesday, November 20, 2007

 

Secret witnesses? How will that work?

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A report by Kim Bolan in Vancouver Sun for 20 November 2007 provides a glimpse of what happens when a trial witness asks for "witness protection" which is the most extreme form of protection involving money payments, a new identity, a new home.

Two people have requested to be allowed to testify "in camera" at the Basi-Virk / BC Rail trial. We assume they meant something less drastic than going into the witness protection program ... something which would allow them to go on with their lives without fear of reprisal. But ...

Exactly how would that work? Does it mean a mini-trial in Justice Bennett's chambers? and that we will never know what they said, who they are, how credible they appear, and, oh yes, who is threatening them?

There must be a better way to support people who are willing to testify at this important trial. This isn't a gangster nation. The B.C. media is certainly lax and biased, but the police aren't the KGB. If the witnesses trusted the citizens to hear their evidence, and to come to their defence against unfair media, wouldn't that be the best, most democratic way to give evidence about the people's business?

Meantime, here are some clues:



POLICE ADMIT THEY CAN'T PROTECT WITNESSES
Toronto chief tells Air India inquiry communities have lost trust

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun -- Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OTTAWA - Police cannot protect witnesses in gang and organized-crime cases because their identities have to be disclosed to the accused once charges are laid, Toronto police chief Bill Blair told the Air India inquiry Monday.

Blair told the Ottawa inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing that many violent crimes in cities across Canada go unprosecuted because witnesses feel they will be in danger if they to cooperate with police.

"What I hear so often from all of our communities, but in particular our minority communities is the lack of trust in the police," Blair told inquiry Commissioner John Major.

"When they say we are burning them, they are right. Because within 35 days of making that arrest, we are disclosing information to the defence counsel, to the Crown attorney, that will eventually get in the hands of an accused person."

He said that in Metro Toronto, accused persons have circulated witness statements to other gangsters and to neighbours of people cooperating with police, creating a climate of fear and intimidation.

"Sometimes if we have taken a videotaped statement from the witness, that will be passed out or appears on YouTube or is being shown around to the neighbours," Blair said.

Blair said the problem is even worse in so-called "mega-trials" with multiple accused and many charges that often take years to go to court while the witnesses wait in fear.

"All the while in their neighbourhoods they feel intimidated, threatened," said Blair, who was on a panel with RCMP Asst. Commissioner Raf Souccar, as well as Steve Chabot, of the Sûreté du Québec.

"We have this irony within the criminal justice system that we are unable to protect those people who come forward and it is not good enough, quite frankly, for me to say, 'Well, you have an obligation, so tough.'"

Major is looking at the issue of mega-trials -- particularly those involving terrorism cases -- to see if changes need to be made so that they do not go off the rails before verdicts can be reached.

The Air India trial, which ended with acquittals in 2005, was the longest criminal trial in Canadian history at 19 months, with almost two years of pretrial arguments.

Before the trial, some witnesses complained they felt intimidated because their witness statements were being circulated around the Sikh community by investigators for the defence team.

Since the new Anti-Terrorism Act was passed in 2001, there have been no terrorism trials that have made it through the courts, Major noted. Major said to simplify such cases, prosecutors and police may have to limit prosecutions to the "big fish" and let the smaller fry swim away.

Blair said police have done that in many cases, which has meant "a change of mindset in a policing perspective."

"We have to be more focused to be more effective," he said. "It does require almost a change in our culture because we used to go after almost everybody for everything and that just won't do any more and be successfully prosecuted."

University of Manitoba law professor Bruce MacFarlane ... said the disclosure problems could be overcome if the Crown and police have all the evidence ready in a package to hand over as soon as someone is charged.

But the panel of senior police officers said that is not always possible if they have to make quick arrests to protect someone from murder or potential harm in an unfolding investigation.

Meanwhile, Vancouver South MP Ujjal Dosanjh has been added to the Air India witness list and will testify Wednesday. Dosanjh has been a vocal opponent of violent extremism for two decades.

kbolan@png.canwest.com

http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=a76e0822-b24d-4eb5-b652-5db1205c0617

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Comments:
Speaking of "secrets" though not necessarily witnesses. I noticed on Tee Vee that Stevie Cameron has been following the Pickton Trial and Missing Women. Apparently she is going to write her next book about regular people with problems rather than "organized crime" like "On the Take Was." I would imagine she has to interview far less sleazy people for the upcoming work as well

The time draweth nigh according to an Atomic Clock at Boulder Colorado, it is now 12:30pm PST
 
One wonders just why a witness needs to go before the court in 'secret' in this case. Are these witnesses afraid of public censure or are they worried about their safety?
Just asking.
 
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