Monday, May 07, 2012

They always get their man but the information?

Sometimes when I read a news story, I see something that strikes me as odd. It usually turns out to be nothing more than a peculiar turn of phrase, or superficial treatment of the subject material where the specifics aren't particularly relevant.

The story that appeared today in numerous local media sources, about the death of an 81 year old Gimli pilot in a civilian plane crash at Kapekun Lake is one of those stories that had an oddity. In the CTV internet story

(http://winnipeg.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120506/
wpg_fatal_crash_120506/20120506?hub=WinnipegHome&utm_
source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter) it was the last sentence: RCMP said they will not release the name of the deceased.

Not the usual; the RCMP said they will not release the name of the deceased pending notification of next of kin, or RCMP will not release the name of the deceased while recovery of the body and investigation of the circumstances of the crash is completed, or even the RCMP will not release the name of the deceased at the request of the family.

Strangely the Winnipeg Sun did repeat the same phase in their coverage, although that could simply be because they used information in the CKY story to flesh out their own coverage.

Neither the CBC coverage:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2012/05/06/mb-plane-crash-kapekun-lake.html

or the Free Press coverage:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/Pilot-dies-in-crash-into-remote-Manitoba-lake-150348855.html made mention of the statement "the RCMP would not release the name of the deceased."
Then I noticed something really odd about the Free Press story - 57 comments, but only 8 appeared the other 49 having been removed for being in violation of whatever criteria they use for being considered a valid comment.

Now as to the point of my email. The RCMP statement appeared to me to be somewhat arbitrary, considering that any incident involving a found deceased person is covered by the Fatalities Inquiry Act, and in this instance also by a Transport Canada investigation of a civilian air crash.

I've used the internet to try and find out exactly what the RCMP policy is on releasing to the media information on people who have died where their Force has been involved, so far no luck. In fact I'm not sure that should such policy exist, if it subject to being altered or modified by the local government agency to which they are contracted, or is it simply left up to the person in charge of each detatchment.

I understand that in certain circumstances family members may not want any information released about the death of a family member, but frankly basic information such as name, age, and locality where the person lived being with held permanently, arbitrarily without substantial justification isn't reasonable and doesn't serve any legitimate purpose.

It's especially troubling when the pilot was enroute to pick up some unnamed person from a remote isolated cabin. Certainly the person could simply be a relative or family member, or even a personal friend. But it could also be the person with the remote cabin is someone with a public profile, and the dead pilot was performing some form of fee for service hire without proper credentials.

Although the RCMP apparently has a policy on naming people who have been arrested and charged with offences, lately there have been several instances where staff in a local detatchment have refused to do so such as: http://www.nnsl.com/frames/newspapers/2012-02/feb13_12drgs.html 

Since you have some knowledge and experience in dealing with the courts, police, and newspapers I was wondering what your thoughts are on the issue - specifically what information should police and the media being making public, and are there any guidelines or rules in place regarding it. Is there any recourse for the public to ensure whatever policy that may exist is consistently applied and subject to some form or review or complaint process.

Thanks for your time.
manitoba.curmudgeon@shaw.ca

Dear Manitoba Curmudgeon:

Thank you for contacting CyberSmokeBlog.

Don't know if you're aware but this morning on CBC Radio the pilot of the ill-fated aircraft was identified during multiple newscasts. No mention was made of anything untoward about the incident

Regarding the RCMP's policy in matters such as this you might start by contacting Division D on Portage Avenue (983-5420) asking to speak with their Public Relations Officer - every police department has one. Should you receive an inadequate explanation or no explanation, there are a few other options.

There's always The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP:

http://www.cpc-cpp.gc.ca/srv/mac/index-eng.aspx

where you can register your complaint using a toll free number (1-800-665-6878) or filing it online.

Yet another option would be to use the federal government's Access To Information Act. The only downside is it will cost you the princely sum of $5.

Finally, there's Manitoba Ombudsman (General Number: 942-7803). The Head of Intake Services can be reached at 985-5238. The Ombudsman's Office does not give out e-mail addresses. We mention this as a possible source because of an interesting situation that developed last year during the high profile Michel Hince-Jerome Labossiere triple first degree murder trial.

One of several reporters covering the case was approached by a relative of the accused and challenged on a detail they'd written in one of their stories. If the alleged error were no corrected the individual suggested they'd file a complaint with the Ombudsman against the media outlet the reporter represented. Last we heard when we checked with the journalist is they'd listened to a recorded transcript of the hearing to verify the accuracy of the particular detail in their story. Don't know if a correction was ever published.

Found the complaint a tad ironic to say the least. The detail in question was like re-arranging deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. It mattered not the slightest in the trial's eventual outcome.

CyberSmokeBlog is particularly interested in your comments regarding the Winnipeg Free Press deletion of several comments regarding the story. For that we'd recommend you contact its Editor (margo.goodhand@freepress.com) one of our personal favourites - she's always been very good about replying to our e-mail questions/comments.
Let us know what criteria the newspaper uses/its policy.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

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