Federal Witness Protection Program - Annual report: 2020-2021


This is the 25th annual report on the federal Witness Protection Program (WPP, or Program), which was submitted to the Minister of Public Safety on June 30, 2021, as required by section 16 of the Witness Protection Program Act (WPPA).

The Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is designated as the administrator of the Program and determines whether a witness should be admitted to the Program. The Commissioner has the responsibility to promote law enforcement, national security, national defense and public safety by facilitating the protection of persons who are at risk of harm due to their assistance or their relationship with someone who provides such assistance.

Witness protection continues to be an effective tool in combatting serious organized crime. It is essential that the Canadian public has the confidence to provide information or assistance to law enforcement and security agencies without the fear of retribution or retaliation.

In March of 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic and Canadian provinces and territories declared states of emergency, entering lockdowns. During the 2020-21 reporting period, the Program experienced a variety of added challenges; however, it also found opportunities to address areas for improvement and adapt where necessary.

The activities and figures included in this report are based on the services provided by the Program between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. To avoid jeopardizing the safety and security of employees and protected persons, the information in this report has been provided at the aggregate level. This report strives to provide as much information as possible to the Canadian public without compromising the effectiveness and security of the Program, its protectees and Canadians.

Program activities

The WPP provides protection to individuals who are subject to substantial threats, intimidation or violence for having assisted or agreed to assist in a matter relating to an inquiry or the investigation or prosecution of an offence. Protection can also be extended to a parent, child or anyone whose safety may be at risk due to a relationship or association with an individual who cooperates with authorities.

The Program is available to law enforcement agencies, federal security, defence and safety organizations across Canada, including designated provincial or municipal programsFootnote 1, as well as international criminal courts and tribunals and trusted international law enforcement agenciesFootnote 2.

In the 2020-21 reporting period, the Program assessed 19 casesFootnote3 for admission, based on factors set out in section 7 of the WPPA:

  • the nature of the risk to the security of the witness
  • the danger to the community if the witness is admitted to the Program
  • the nature of the inquiry, investigation or prosecution involving the witness - or the nature of the assistance given or agreed to be given by the witness to a federal security, defence or safety organization - and the importance of the witness in the matter
  • the value of the witness's participation or of the information, evidence or assistance given or agreed to be given by the witness
  • the likelihood of the witness being able to adjust to the Program, having regard to the witness's maturity, judgment and other personal characteristics and the family relationships of the witness
  • the cost of maintaining the witness in the Program
  • alternate methods of protecting the witness without admitting them to the Program
  • such other factors as the Commissioner deems relevant

Of the 19 cases, 17 were referred from the RCMP and 2 were from other Canadian law enforcement agencies. This year, there were no requests from international partners. Figure 1 provides a visual representation of the share of requests.

Figure 1: Cases referred to the RCMP for assessment for admission to the WPP

Figure 1: Cases referred to the RCMP for assessment for admission to the WPP - Text version
Figure 1: Cases referred to the RCMP for assessment for admission to the WPP
Police agency Number of cases
RCMP 98%
Other Canadian police agencies 2%
International 0%

Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, 10 individuals were admitted to the WPP. An individual who receives protection under the Program is referred to as a protectee. The level and type of assistance provided depends on the circumstances of a protectee and may include relocation, accommodation and change of identity, as well as counselling and financial support to ensure their security, safety or to facilitate their re-establishment and reintegration in the community. Protectees are required to meet certain expectations such as giving all information or evidence required by the investigation or prosecution, meeting all financial and legal obligations, and refraining from the commission of federal offences or activities that could compromise their security, other protectees or the Program itself.

During the same time period, 10 individuals were provided alternate methods of protection, and another 11 refused all forms of protection. Alternate methods of protection are normally provided in cases where individuals refuse to be considered for admission to the WPP or are found to be inadmissible as determined by section 7 of the WPPA. Reasons for an individual's refusal can include their unwillingness to relocate due to personal reasons, or an objection to the conditions imposed (e.g., abstaining from illegal activity, never returning to the threat area).

It is important to note that the WPP's admission assessments are independent from investigations. While the value of a witness' participation in an investigation is a factor that is considered for their admission to the Program, investigators are not involved in the admission decision. This ensures the Program maintains independence from investigations and its primary focus is the safety of its protectees and program staff. Figure 2 depicts the landscape of the assessments of individuals for admission to the Program.

Figure 2: Individuals assessed

Figure 2: Individuals assessed - Text version
Figure 2: Individuals assessed
Category Number of individuals
Alternative methods of protection 10.32%
Individuals refused 11.35%
Protectees admitted 10.32%

While individuals are deemed admitted to the Program for life, participation is voluntary and they may choose to leave at any time. This is referred to as a voluntary termination. Reasons that a protectee may wish to terminate may include a desire to return to a threat area or to proceed with their lives without WPP involvement. In 2020-21, 14 protectees voluntarily terminated from the Program.

Conversely, protectees may be subject to an involuntary termination of protection at any time if there if is evidence of a material misrepresentation or a failure to disclose information relevant to their admission to the Program, or a deliberate and material contravention of their obligations under the signed Protection Agreement (section 9 of the WPPA). This decision is made by the Assistant Commissioner who has been delegated the authority to both admit individuals into the Program and to terminate the protection provided to them. In 2020-21, no protectees were subject to non-voluntary termination.

Complaints, civil and criminal litigation

During this reporting period, there were two civil litigation cases filed and no public complaints made against the WPPFootnote 4.

The Program has a duty to protect those who testify in court or assist law enforcement. As such, the WPP is required to disclose materials related to witnesses in trials on a regular basis. It is essential to protect any information about a witness's location, change of identity, or the means and methods by which a witness in the Program is protected, including the identity and role of persons who directly or indirectly assist in providing protection. This information is prohibited from disclosure under section 11 of the WPPA.

Despite a low number of cases filed this year, the Program remains busy with criminal files and civil litigation claims from previous reporting years. As well, the Program is required to disclose WPP material pertaining to claims filed against investigative units. As a result, disclosure remains a highly resource-intensive component of the Program's activities and continues to be a significant aspect of the Program.

Effectiveness of the WPP

The WPP reports that no individual protectees were injured or killed by threat actors during the reporting period.

During COVID-19 pandemic, the Program and its partners and stakeholders adapted and transformed to a 'new normal' during this reporting period. The Program implemented measures to continue service delivery and maintain productivity, while ensuring the health and safety of Program staff and the individuals receiving support and protection from the Program. The Program continues to assess the evolving situation of COVID-19 and adjust operations accordingly.

Operationally, the Program continued to make progress in implementing significant structural and operational changes. Most notably, updating an array of policies and procedures, advancing its research, undertaking analysis of data to support decision making, establishing an independent intelligence capability, delivering enhanced services to protectees, and hiring additional staff to ensure the necessary capacity to deliver on both expanded and specialized requirements. Several of these activities will continue to carry over for many years given their complexities and resources required to fully implement them.

Transparency and accountability

To ensure transparency and accountability, the Commissioner of the RCMP is legislatively mandated to submit a public annual report on the operation of the Program to the Minster of Public Safety, no later than June 30th of each year. The report is prepared and tabled in Parliament in accordance with section 16 of the WPPA.

In 2013, the Program created the Witness Protection Program Advisory Committee (WPAC) to provide independent, expert advice to the Commissioner (and by extension, the Program) on a wide range of complex issues and to enhance the accountability of a program that is necessarily discrete, by acting as one of its only external review mechanisms. The Committee typically structures its findings and observations around three main pillars:

  1. Protectee-focus: Ensuring the Program's service delivery places protectees at the forefront of decision-making by addressing protectee needs to ensure their security, safety, and re-establishment.
  2. Program independence: Ensuring the integrity of the WPP, which requires the Program to be independent from investigative or prosecutorial interests.
  3. Program standards: Supporting consistent decision-making and professional, standardized service for all clients across all parts of the country.

The Committee produces an Annual Report to the Commissioner which is made public. The most recent report was released on February 5, 2021, and is available by request on the RCMP website. The Committee's report provides observations and recommendations to continue the Program's modernization. The recommendations speak to the ongoing need to focus decision-making around 'the protection continuum', as well as continue collaboration with federal and provincial partners on national witness protection standards. Despite the inherent challenges of witness protection, the Committee commended the Commissioner and the Program's progress in implementing many improvements and its commitment to increasing resources and advancing research programs, while continuing to focus on the needs of protectees.


The WPP is administered by the RCMP and funded from within the RCMP budget. A table of costs for the 2020-21 fiscal year is provided in Table 1 below. It includes wages and benefits for personnel, travel costs, administrative and protectee expenses totaling $11.64M. This total also includes the cost of internal services of $1.97M, which encompasses financial management, legal services, real property services and human resources.

These costs do not take into consideration expenses incurred by other law enforcement agencies, including other witness protection programs.

Table 1: RCMP Expenditures on WPP for 2020-21
Category Amount in Canadian dollars % of total expenditures
Compensation $6,604,566.21 56.76%
Other police department secondments $0.00 0.00%
Travel $141,919.08 1.22%
Administration $583,831.56 5.02%
Witness protection expenses $721,876.24 6.20%
Miscellaneous $619,434.52 5.32%
Civil litigation costs $0.00 0.00%
Employee benefit plans $990,685.00 8.51%
Internal services $1,973,804.00 16.96%
Total $11,636,116.61 100.00%

Figure 3: Percent of total expenditure

Figure 3: Percent of total expenditure - Text version
Figure 3: Percent of total expenditure
Category % of total expenditure
Civil litigation costs 0%
Other police department secondments 0%
Travel 1.22%
Administration 5.02%
Miscellaneous 5.32%
Witness protection expenses 6.20%
Internal services 16.96%
Employee benefit plans 8.51%
Compensation 56.76%
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