Apparently a vicious serial killer's privacy rights trump the Canadian public's right to know whether police did all they could to catch him quickly.
The Toronto Star reports it's in a tussle with Ontario's information guardians over a request to know when investigators submitted samples of Russell Williams' DNA for testing or when the samples were uploaded to a national DNA database.
Williams was a rising star in the Canadian Armed Forces, a square-jawed pilot who had flown VIPs such as the Queen and a Canadian prime minister, and was the colonel in command of CFB Trenton, south of Ottawa.
But Williams led a well-concealed double life as a violent sexual pervert who broke into women's homes and stole underwear that he photographed himself wearing. His activities escalated to home-invasion and sexual assault, and finally murder.
He confessed to killing Cpl. Marie France Comeau in her home in November 2009 and Jessica Lloyd in late January 2010. Williams was arrested only a few days after Lloyd was killed, apparently because the distinctive tire tread on his SUV matched marks left at one of the crime scenes.
The Star filed an freedom-of-information request with the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to make public the dates when Williams' DNA was tested and submitted to the national database.
DNA samples were taken from one sexual assault scene and at the first of his two murders that matched Williams' profile and could not rule him out as a suspect, the Star reported.
Could timely testing of the DNA sample potentially have saved the life of Jessica Lloyd, who was killed two months later, or was her death unpreventable?
"Releasing the dates when DNA samples were submitted, tests were completed, and the resulting DNA profiles were fed into a national database would help clear up those questions," the Star contended.
But the ministry rejected the request, calling it an "unjustified invasion of personal privacy," the Star said.
The ministry's deputy freedom-of-information co-ordinator cited "mandatory" personal privacy provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as well as two subsections dealing with "highly sensitive" personal information and information that's part of a potential criminal investigation.
The restriction apparently extends to the dates the samples were submitted.
The issue of timely testing is sensitive because of suggestions serial killer Paul Bernardo might have been caught sooner had DNA samples linked to rapes he'd committed previously not disappeared into a "black hole," the Star said.
A review of the investigation done in 1996 noted testing delays at Ontario's Centre for Forensic Sciences factored into Bernardo's freedom to torture and kill two abducted teenage girls, as well as his wife and accomplice Karla Homolka's young sister.
Former journalist Ann Rees, who has studied Canadian freedom-of-information mechanisms, told the Star the government should release the testing information because it's in the public interest to show proper procedures were followed in the Williams case.
"As to Williams' privacy rights, in my view he forfeited them when he became a risk to the public by attacking and killing women," Rees, now an academic, wrote in an email to the Star.
Williams, who was stripped of his rank and dismissed from the military, is serving a life sentence with no chance to apply for parole for at least 25 years.