BILL 4 'WITNESS SECURITY ACT' IS TAILOR-MADE FOR BC
MLA Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety tabled a Bill 4 that beefs up witness protection.
The Legislature Thursday was unanimous in its
support of Bill 4 'Witness Security Act', which deals with the protection of
witnesses testifying both before after court, even if it means taking on a new
There's no debating that Surrey is the Canadian poster city for gang-related violence. From 2015 to 2017 there were 208 targeted shootings. There have been 118 homicides since 2009 in BC. Although the numbers are dropping slightly each year since, this province is still under fire with the highest proportion of gang-related homicides two years running across Canada.
NDP Mike Farnworth, MLA Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and Minister of Public Safety, tabled the "Made in BC" piece of legislature.
"This proposed legislation will provide an important tool to police and crown as we work to address gang and gun violence in the province of BC," said Farnworth. "Organized crime witnesses are key to getting convictions in criminal cases."
It all starts with the police. If they determine a
person's testimony is critical to securing a conviction then they make the
Then the application is referred to a committee of subject matter experts. The committee chairperson then convenes a panel made up of 3-5 members from the committee who make the final decision of accepting someone into the program. They can appeal if necessary.
"Those panels will ultimately determine eligibility for the program, duration and nature and scope of program such as health and addiction services support, temporary financial support and housing if needed," said Farnworth.
"Often times they, require a new identity. Often
times they have to be relocated from the community that they live in. Not very
often we have to find another country under an assumed names, a brand new
identity for the rest of their life. That's where maintaining the Witness
Security Act becomes expensive. It's not just a one-year deal, it's a multi-year
deal it's a lifetime deal," explained Farnworth.
In exchange, the witnesses need to abide by the rules and don't try to make contact with any of their loved ones, family member or anyone that they've left behind and that they maintain a crime-free lifestyle. If they don't abide by those rules then the deal is over and they're on their own.
BC's program will augment The Federal Witness
Protection Program, administered by the RCMP not replace it.
Farnworth was critical about the response time at the federal level and said BC will now be faster with a Director of Witness Security and committees in place to move it more quickly.
MLA Mike Morris agreed that the Federal Witness Protection Program should be providing more resources and at a more rapid pace.
George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris
Morris said that organized crime is
relentless in tracking witnesses down wherever they go in the world. They put a
lot of money and effort into it.
"I think this acts quickly and is nimble enough so that we can move forward with Bill 4," he said. "I hope the success of convictions is going to go up and up because of this."
The financial aspect of the program can be
debilitating when a million dollars, or more, could be spent on a case and then
find out there was an error in the investigation, rule of law, or all of a
sudden a witness refuses to testify at the last minute, or something else that
happens then it's a million dollars "out the door".
"Often times people in BC and Alberta aren't afforded the level of protection that should be there in the first place because the program simply doesn't have the resources," he said.
Morris said he'll move forward with trepidation as to how they'll approach municipalities for resources.
Sims, Surrey-Delta MLA and Minster of Citizens' Services, said she was glad to
finally see a level of services including mental health and addiction being
offered as part of the program.
"It's a non-partisan
Jinny Sims, Surrey-Delta MLA and Minster of
"We know that pointing fingers at others is not going to solve the problem. It's
very difficult to get communities to collaborate and work together on
these problems affecting our communities and the results from this saving a life
or getting a conviction are priceless."
"It's important to give the law enforcement agencies the tools they need," said Sims. "This is a program that will help to stop a parent from getting a call saying their loved one has been shot in gang violence."
though Surrey has a bad rep, Sims says it's not exclusive to her constituency.
"This particular piece of legislation will help places like Surrey, but Surrey is not the only city. It's Abbotsford, it's Vancouver," she said.
Colman, MLA Langley-East went into great detail about the importance of privacy
and onus it puts on to the Solicitor General not to divulge information about an
Rich Colman, MLA Langley-East said protecting the identities of witnesses is key.
"It's about we
being protective with information. It's about making sure confidentiality in
police investigations is protected. If it's about changing an identity, and if
we can't provide that, then an investigation is in jeopardy."
As former Solicitor General, Colman said he had a close relationship with the RCMP about ongoing investigations. But he had to protect the integrity of the investigation and the lives or people involved by staying silent.
"I was briefed on investigations at the highest level, but not once could I answer a question about an investigation with anything other than "No comment."
Colman said at one point he was asked to get money for an investigation into a serial killer on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
"I'll never forget the call I got when they said they think they've got the guy, they just needed money. Then later we saw the charges and conviction of Pickton," he said." I toured the spot and not once could I ever say one word about it."
Getting an informant is a daunting task he says.
"It's tough for police because they need information from within the community," he explained. "There's a code of silence and they're dealing with complex issues and organized crime."
He gave the example of Hell's Angels as being organized.
"They may ride Harleys but they're integrated
organized crime," he said.
They tell me that youth in my community are being recruited as young as 11 into gangs. They're offered a tribe, a sense of belonging.
"This will send a strong message about gang
culture and have a massive impact on public safety. Not just individuals and
families but for the whole of our community," said Mitzi Dean MLA
"Over the last six years there's been an increase from 30 to 73 in the youth Quest program and there are more out there who aren't seeking support," she said. "There was one gang with over 20 members in my constituency that were responsible for more than 200 police files in 2013."
Ben Stewart MLA Kelowna West cautioned the costs are going to be high but was concerned the funds will be there when needed.
According to Stewart, the Liberals threw more money into the fund when they were last in office.
"We invested an extra $30 million into "Guns and
Gangs" and that brings us up to about $80 million per year that the government
is trying to make certain that we find ways forward to making this happen," said
MLA Kelowna West.
"But we need to make sure Bill 4 is going to work because it's hard to
ask a community for a million dollars to relocate someone when it doesn't work."