Witness protection has been universally recognized as one of the most important tools law enforcement has at its disposal to combat criminal activity. The Federal Witness Protection Program's (FWPP) primary purpose is to promote law enforcement by facilitating the protection of persons who, as a result of providing assistance to law enforcement or providing testimony in criminal matters, are deemed to be at risk. The FWPP is available to not only the RCMP but to all law enforcement agencies across Canada, and there are provisions within federal witness protection legislation to facilitate the protection of foreign witnesses when they can no longer be protected within their own country.
In an effort to introduce greater accountability and consistency to protection practices, Canadian law makers introduced the Witness Protection Program Act (WPPA) in June, 1996. The Act identifies the Commissioner of the RCMP as the administrator of the Program, however, responsibilities for various protective processes such as admission to the Program and termination from the Program have been delegated to the Assistant Commissioner of Federal and International Operations.
Specially trained Witness Protection Coordinators operate at arm's length from investigative teams to ensure that a standardized and objective approach is used when assessing an individual's suitability for the FWPP. Outside of the administration of the WPPA, the RCMP can neither confirm nor deny the identity and/or location of anyone in the Program.
Section 7 of the WPPA dictates the following factors shall be considered prior to determining whether a witness should be permitted into the program:
Under the authority of the WPPA, the Commissioner of the RCMP is required to produce an annual report on the administration of the FWPP. The report is carefully prepared to protect the disclosure of detailed information which could endanger the safety of Protectees and undermine the integrity of the FWPP. Additionally, the annual report is tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Public Safety.
Q: Is there a specific list of offences for which witness protection is offered?
A: There is no list of offences for which the Program is offered. All admissions to the FWPP represent financial liabilities for the RCMP and the Federal Government, therefore the nature of the inquiry, investigation or prosecution is always an important consideration. The definition of "witness" is outlined in Section 2 of the WPPA. If there is a threat to a witness as a result of their involvement with law enforcement or the justice system, a request can be made by the police force of jurisdiction for the witness to be assessed using the factors under Section 7 of the WPPA. Provided the criteria have been met, and a threat assessment supports the need for relocation, the witness may then be recommended for admission into the FWPP.
Q: Is relocation with a name change the only option available to witnesses requiring protection?
A: No. The FWPP is not an "all or nothing" program. The emergency provisions under Section 6(2) of the WPPA provide Witness Protection Coordinators the flexibility to provide a range of protective measures. When deemed appropriate, the use of immediate, short-term measures allow investigators and coordinators to respond quickly to potential threats.
Emergency protective measures have been used in many cases where a witness either refuses protective measures or is deemed unsuitable for the FWPP.
Q: Does the FWPP significantly alter a Protectee's standard of living?
A: When FWPP coordinators calculate budgets for a Protectee’s relocation, the calculations are based upon the standard of living of the Protectee prior to entering the FWPP, provided the Protectee was not living off the avails of illegal activities, and therefore beyond his/her legitimate means.
Q: How is "material" breach interpreted in the context of Section 9 of the WPPA?
A: Material breaches are defined in Section 8(b) of the WPPA. A Protectee commits a breach if he/she fails to: give information or evidence or participate as required in relation to the inquiry, investigation or prosecution to which the protection provided under the agreement relates; meet all financial obligations incurred by the Protectee; meet all legal obligations incurred by the Protectee, including custody and maintenance of children; refrain from activities that constitute an offence against an Act of Parliament or that might compromise the security of the Protectee, another Protectee or the Program; and accept and give effect to reasonable requests and directions made by the Commissioner of the RCMP in relation to the protection provided.
Q: How is a Protectee terminated from the FWPP?
A Protectee may be "non-voluntarily" terminated from the FWPP as a result of committing security breaches or for committing an offence against a Canadian statute. Under these circumstances, a Witness Protection Coordinator will make a recommendation to the Commissioner to terminate the Protectee from the Program. If the recommendation is supported, a termination notice will be served to the Protectee. If the Protectee refuses to make written representations within 20 days as to why he/she should not be terminated from the Program, he/she is considered terminated from the FWPP. If the Protectee chooses to initiate the rebuttal process, a review by the Commissioner's delegate ensues. If a Protectee is terminated and is unsatisfied with the outcome, he/she has the option to appeal to the Federal Court of Canada.
The WPP is a voluntary program and Protectees may voluntarily remove themselves from the Program if they so wish.
The RCMP is governed by the WPPA which states the new name and new address of all Protectees must be protected, regardless of whether they are terminated from the Program.
Q: Who is responsible for the overall cost of the FWPP?
A: The RCMP funds the WPP from existing operational funds. Costs for witness protection are factored into every investigation where protection may be an issue, ensuring funds are made available for the witness protection component.
The second source of funding comes from other law enforcement agencies (International, National, Provincial, Municipal) for all assistance cases. These assistance cases are administered on a cost-recovery basis, excluding RCMP coordinators' salaries. There are instances when the costs of witness protection may impede investigations, particularly for smaller law enforcement agencies.
Q: Are there provisions in place permitting the RCMP to offer domestic and international immunity from prosecution?
A: There are no provisions which will permit the RCMP to offer protectees immunity from prosecution. The FWPP does not shield Protectees from responsibility for past or current illegal activities or allow them to avoid civil responsibilities such as child support payments or the payment of taxes. A protectee entering the FWPP with a criminal record will maintain the criminal record even if provided a new identity.
For more info, please see the Witness Protection Program Act.