Vol. 148, No. 24 — November 19, 2014
SI/2014-96 November 19, 2014
SAFER WITNESSES ACT
Order Fixing November 1, 2014 as the Day on which the Act Comes into Force
P.C. 2014-1154 October 30, 2014
His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, pursuant to section 24 of the Safer Witnesses Act, chapter 29 of the Statutes of Canada, 2013, fixes November 1, 2014 as the day on which that Act comes into force, other than section 23, which came into force on assent.
(This note is not part of the Order.)
This Order fixes November 1, 2014, as the date of the coming into force of the Safer Witnesses Act, An Act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act (the Act), other than section 23 of the Act, which came into force on assent. This Order is made pursuant to section 24 of the Act.
The objective of this Order is to bring into force the Act, in its entirety, on November 1, 2014. The Act introduces legislative changes to the Witness Protection Program Act (WPPA), primarily to enhance the federal Witness Protection Program to make it more effective and secure, improve its interaction with provincial, territorial, and municipal witness protection programs and better protect those who provide protection.
The Act received Royal Assent on June 26, 2013. The federal Program has been in operation for several years and has served the criminal justice system well. However, areas for improvement were identified through several reviews, including
- a review of the Program by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in 2007, which outlined, in its 2008 report, nine recommendations to make the Program more accessible, effective and transparent;
- a report by the 2010 Air India Inquiry, released in June 2010, which recommended that the federal Program be adjusted to better address terrorism cases; and
- consultations with federal, provincial and territorial stakeholders, which revealed support for the federal Program, but also highlighted some concerns regarding federal protection of information about provincial witness protection programs, a requirement for more focus on the needs of protectees, and the need for more flexibility in the way the Program is administered. Some provinces also noted concerns with delays in acquiring federal documents required for secure identity changes.
The Act addresses many of these gaps and responds to many of the recommendations outlined by the reviews noted above. Legislative changes include
- a designation framework, which will enable provinces, territories and municipalities with witness protection programs to request, on a one-time basis, that their programs be designated under the WPPA in order for their witnesses to receive federal documents required for a secure identity change without being admitted into the federal Program, which is currently required before these witnesses can be granted federal documents. This framework will permit a more efficient process of obtaining these vital documents;
- broadened prohibitions of disclosure of sensitive information about protected persons and about those who provide protection, as well as about witness protection programs themselves. Broadened exceptions to these prohibitions would permit, for example, disclosure for the purpose of providing protection to a person or for the purpose of the administration of justice;
- authorization for the federal Program to accept referrals of persons assisting organizations with a mandate related to national security, national defence or public safety, such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Department of National Defence. Currently, the federal Program may only accept referrals from law enforcement agencies or from international courts or tribunals;
- several amendments to address ongoing liability and operational issues with administering the federal Program, as identified by both federal and provincial stakeholders. These include
- permitting voluntary terminations from the federal Program, which is not provided for in the current legislation; and
- extending the length of time the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner may offer emergency protection to a candidate being considered for admission into the federal Program from the current 90 days to a maximum of 180 days.
Among other provisions, the designated program framework will require provincial, territorial and municipal witness protection programs to request that their programs be designated. This request must be submitted to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (Public Safety Canada), who may recommend to the Governor in Council to add the program to a schedule of provincial designated programs in the Act. Once designated, programs may request the assistance of the RCMP in acquiring secure federal documents required for identity changes for their witnesses. Prohibitions of disclosure of information will also apply to these programs.
There are no financial implications associated with this Order.
In 2008 and 2009, Public Safety Canada and the RCMP jointly conducted consultations with approximately 100 federal, provincial and territorial representatives in the areas of justice, public and community safety, prosecutions, provincial and local police, and federal departments responsible for federal documents required for secure identity changes, as well as RCMP witness protection handlers and coordinators. The purpose of the consultations was to learn more about how witness protection is conducted in the different jurisdictions, participants’ concerns about the federal Program, and to seek participants’ perspective on the Standing Committee’s recommendations.
Since then, Public Safety Canada and the RCMP have briefed and consulted with stakeholders about the legislative amendments outlined in the Act through various fora and channels, including
- bi-annual meetings of the National Coordinating Committee on Organized Crime;
- bi-annual meetings of the Organized Crime Working Group under the Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials — Criminal Justice, Organized Crime Committee;
- bilateral and stakeholder group teleconferences; and
- written and email correspondence.
Federal stakeholders are supportive of these amendments. The five provinces where witness protection programs currently exist (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec) were consulted about the designation framework. The process to become designated was simplified to address concerns expressed by Ontario and Quebec.
For more information, please contact
Mr. Trevor Bhupsingh
Law Enforcement and Border Strategies Directorate
Public Safety Canada