Eganville – The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are no longer releasing the names of accident victims following a decision made in consultation with the agency’s Victim Centred Approach Team.
“When someone dies, either in an accident in their own yard, a single vehicle collision on a highway or drowns when their canoe capsizes, that person’s privacy rights virtually disappear,” explained Bill Dickson, acting manager for Media Relations with the OPP. “But not so for their families.”
He was responding to a request for clarification from the Leader about the new policy the newspaper staff became aware of last week when a Petawawa resident was killed on Highway 17. Although the OPP did release the age and place of residence of the victim, they did not release the name. When questioned by the Leader, local OPP stated they would no longer be releasing the names of victims of accidents. Mr. Dickson further clarified the policy, noting, “the OPP is working very hard to ensure that we do everything we can to protect and support victims.”
He said when someone is killed in an accident, the family is traumatized and in shock.
“In effect, they become victims themselves,” he said. “When we then turn around and arbitrarily release the name of their loved one, we are, in reality, re-victimizing them. For some cultures that are now part of the Canadian landscape, having that name released is a very shameful and devastating thing.”
He said families will let people know when a loved one has died.
“Very soon, everyone who knows the deceased person will be aware,” he said. “The name means something to all of them.
“To the hundreds or even thousands of strangers who drive by a collision, those who saw an ambulance at a residence or even those who saw an OPP boat being towed toward a lake, the name will mean nothing,” he added. “If we say, ‘a 37-year-old from Eganville died as a result of their injuries’ those who personally know the individual and will be impacted will be hearing from the family itself. The vast majority of those who read that line – or hear it on the radio – will not give it a second thought and carry on about their day.”
He noted the media may choose to publish information they learn from witnesses, family members or friends, including the name but that is not up to the OPP.
“We, of course, will continue to identify the victims of homicides or other situations of public safety concern, as even we realize that the public’s right to know outweighs the right to privacy in a matter such as this,” he stated.
The world is changing in how things are reported by the police, he added.
“Just like the rest of the world, we need to change the way we do things,” he said. “Other services have even stopped releasing the names of those accused of crimes, other than the most serious offences.
“The OPP’s focus remains focused on supporting and protecting victims and their families,” he added.