The Right Not To Be Identified

September 14, 2013

Christie Blatchford wrote a thoughtful piece yesterday on the lasting impacts innocent accused face after they have been exonerated. 

The major impact an innocent accused faces is publication of their identity.  When an accused is charged with an offence it is not unusual for the police to public identify them.  For example, the Ottawa police post news releases that identify many persons who are charged with offences (police do not post releases when these people are found not guilty).  Police publication is just the beginning not the end of the problem of stigmatization as identification continues throughout the court process.  

It is common for media to publish names of accused persons and details of the allegations.  Sadly, as Ms. Blatchford points out there is less media attention paid to acquittals then there is to charges and convictions.  When media do report on acquittals it is often less visibly placed than when they reported on the initial allegations.        

Once an accused is identified the proverbial cat is out bag and onto the internet.  The mere fact that an individual is charged is enough to ruin a good name – even if the charges are eventually found to be untrue.

There is relatively little that can be done to mitigate the potential damage of publication.  There is no protection for an accused in the criminal code.  Irronically the only time  publication of an accused name is prohibited is when the publication may identify the victim.  

This is a situation that must be addressed given the new realities of the internet and permanence of information.  

As Justice Minister Peter MacKay tours Canada trumpeting victims’ rights little is being done to asist in mitigating or preventing damage to an innocent accused.  

There must be action on this issue.  

The starting point of course is that accused persons whose names are published are presumed innocent.  The name of an accused should not be published until the presumption of innocence is removed unless there exist exceptional circumstances.     

There should also be financial relief for individuals who are found to be not guilty.  As governments cut back on legal aid and financial assistance, more accused are forced to the brink of financial disaster to clear their name.  At a minimum litigation costs should be tax deductible.   

As millions are poured into victim services, accused persons are left named, branded, exposed, and financially devastated.  There must be action to give meaning to the presumption of innocence.  

Being found not guilty is a hollow victory indeed when it comes at the expense of ones good name at the cost of financial ruin.