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'Cutting off your nose to spite your face'
by Sandy Lindsay

January 17, 2017
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Editorial

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There is an old saying, 'cutting off your nose to spite your face', and that may be exactly what the police and the Crown might be doing when they bring a contentious issue to the Supreme Court in Ontario on Friday, January 20th.

The issue surrounds Crime Stoppers and its very core principle of protecting tipsters with the rule of anonymity.

 For a little background, Crime Stoppers is a civilian, non-profit, charitable organization that is a vehicle to anonymously provide police with information about a crime or potential crime. The organization pays out cash rewards to anonymous tipsters if a tip is used and a crime is resolved as a result.

The organization is completely self-sustaining through donations and fundraising and is entirely volunteer driven in partnership with communities, police and media.

Since its inception in 1976, Crime Stoppers is now in 32 countries and almost 500,000 crimes have been solved with over $8 billion worth of stolen property and narcotics being seized.

More recently, it has begun to raise funds to stop human trafficking globally, especially where children are being used as modern day slaves in the sex trade.

Do we really want a service like this to end over one case that is being brought to the courts and which may, in fact, cause the demise of Crime Stoppers, according to national news publications?

The case, in question, is based on a tipster that the Crown and police claim is actually an accused murderer from the Durham region who is trying to obstruct justice in his own case.  The Crown and police suspicion is that the tipster is not an actual informer but the accused trying to overthrow his own case and, therefore, the rule of anonymity does not apply.

When brought before a 'trial' judge and after hearing the arguments, the judge deemed that the tip was to be admitted as evidence while another judge did not uphold that position.  

Therein, lies the crux of the matter.

Therefore, the matter is being brought to the Supreme Court by the police and the Crown who want the first judge's decision upheld and the 'Durham' tip to be admitted as evidence.

It would however, set a precedent and, if upheld by the Courts, no longer would tipsters be assured of anonymity, which could have long reaching affects.

Knowing that tipsters' names and information could be revealed under a court order, there is little doubt that tip numbers would decline dramatically.  Those who would call in tips would fear retribution against themselves and/or their family members if their information were to be revealed in a court of law.  That would be enough to deter any tipster.

Do tipsters call in solely for the reward?  While it would appear so, in fact, much of the reward money goes unclaimed.

If the police have a solid case against the alleged 'Durham' accused/murderer, then why is the Crown taking this tact, which could be the end of an organization that seriously impacts crime world-wide?

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This tactic was, in fact, tried once before and the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the rule of 'informer protection privilege'.  In that instance, it was in fact, the Crown that refused disclosure on the grounds of informer privilege.

The ruling on February 16, 1997, was unanimous by the Court that "police do not have to disclose any information received from this internationally recognized crime prevention program."

Excerpts from the Judgement: R. v. Leipert:

"The rule of informer privilege is of such fundamental importance to the workings of a criminal justice system that it cannot be balanced against other interests relating to the administration of justice.  Once the privilege has been established, neither the police nor the court possesses discretion to abridge it.  The privilege belongs to the Crown, which cannot waive it without the informer's consent.  In that sense, the privilege also belongs to the informer.  The privilege prevents not only disclosure of the informer's name, but also of any information which might implicitly reveal his identity."

"The value of informers to police investigations has long been recognized.  As long as crimes have been committed, certainly as long as they have been prosecuted, informers have played an important role in their investigations."

"Anonymous tip sheets should not be edited with a view to disclosing them to the defence unless the accused can bring himself within the 'innocence at stake' exception.  To do so runs the risk that the court will deprive the informer of the privilege which belongs to him absolutely .... it also undermines the efficacy of programs such as Crime Stoppers, which depend on guarantees of anonymity to those who volunteer information on crimes ..."

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Is one case worth the demise of such a valuable core principle - informer protection privilege?  This is something the Crown should ask itself.

Is one case worth the demise of an entire organization such as Crime Stoppers?  This is something the Crown, the police and the Supreme Court should ask themselves.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017