Mounties propose revamping Canada’s witness-protection program

The RCMP administer witness protection, which offers anything from short-term protection to permanent relocation …The RCMP is recommending an expansion of the 16-year-old federal witness-protection program to include members of street gangs, The Canadian Press reports.

The Mounties administer witness protection, which offers anything from short-term protection to permanent relocation and identity changes, CP noted, adding the program cost $9 million in 2011-12.

The program was legislated by Parliament in 1996 to offer protection to those assisting in criminal cases, as well as families or others who might need protection because of their relationship with the witness.

The RCMP says there's no list of offences eligible for the program and people are accepted based on the nature of the case and threat level.

Using access-to-information legislation, CP obtained the RCMP's blueprint to update the program with help from the federal Public Safety Department and the provinces, which can access the federal program.

[ Related: Provinces demand greater co-operation from feds on witness protection ]

It recommended including youth- and street-gang members in the program along with traditional protectees from old-school organized crime organizations and biker gangs, CP said.

It also recommended submitting potential protectees to intensive psychological testing, setting up a national support centre and also an external advisory board to serve as a watchdog over the program, CP reported.

The document was produced in May 2010 but RCMP spokeswoman Laurence Trottier told CP some changes had been introduced, though she didn't elaborate. The program "continues to rapidly evolve." she said.

The program came under review after revelations five years ago that a protectee had committed murder while in the program.

Ottawa has also been working to revamp following recommendations of a Commons Committee, an inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing and consultations with the provinces, some of which have their own programs, CP said.

The blueprint said the RCMP must ensure its program services "better able to respond to current challenges" such as street and youth gang violence.

The Mounties propose the admission criteria for the federal program be expanded to accommodate "a broader spectrum of eligible witnesses," says the paper, according to CP.

"While this is a shift from our current practice, it is based on sound principles," says the document. "This position also demonstrates our willingness to assist our municipal police colleagues who are struggling with ever increasing violence within their communities."

[ Related: Italy's secret anti-mob weapon: witness protection ]

The report recommended the use of psychologists would help determine if someone was suitable for protection and possible relocation, CP said.

"The creation of a protocol to evaluate the psycho-social personality traits of the protectees is considered an essential element in the admission process," the blueprint says.

It would also help the RCMP predict whether a protectee would commit a crime in future and assess whether they and their families could adapt to the program, the document says.

Trottier told CP the changes have been made to the training provided to program members to better equip them for their new lives, and social and psychological specialists have been introduced to help protectees' make the transition as seamlessly as possible.