07/16/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT

RCMP Quietly Stop Naming Victims, Citing Privacy Act

Steve Russell via Getty Images
MONCTON, NB- JUNE 6 - Supt. Marlene Snowman, Officer in charge of the Codiac RCMP detachment speaks during during an emotional press conference at the Crowne Plaza after suspected gunman Justin Bourque was arrested late in the night in Moncton. June 6, 2014. Steve Russell/Toronto Star (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
​RCMP have quietly stopped releasing the names of victims who die in car crashes and other tragic accidents across Canada.

The Mounties say they are following the Privacy Act; however, RCMP headquarters will not disclose why it has started enforcing the policy now.

"There certainly haven't been any legislative changes that have happened to our privacy laws that would cause this, nor have there been any significant findings from the privacy commissioner or any high profile circumstances that I can think of that might have brought about this change in policy," said David Fraser, privacy lawyer at McInnes Cooper.

In a written statement, RCMP spokesperson Julie Gagnon explains there are exemptions under which personal information may be disclosed.

Those exemptions include when the information is already publicly available (section 69(2)); when disclosure is necessary to further an investigation (section 8(2)); or, when in the opinion of the head of the institution, (i) public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure or (ii) disclosure would clearly benefit the individual to whom the information relates (section 8(2)(m)).

For example, RCMP may decide to release a name in a homicide case when it needs information from the public.

"However even when an exemption may apply it is discretionary and the RCMP will balance the interests in disclosing the information against the privacy interests involved," writes Gagnon. 

Fraser doesn't buy the sudden affection for the law.

"Not disclosing the information very likely makes their jobs easier, and not having to ask the next of kin or the family to disclose whether they can disclose this information, it's one less thing that they have to do," said Fraser.

"It's always easier- we see this across government- to just point to the privacy legislation as a reason to not do something ... to not provide information to the media."

'They're not a statistic'

The mother of two young men killed in a Cape Breton car crash says she's upset by the policy change.

Mary Anne MacIntyre lost her two sons, Morgan Christopher MacIntyre, 19, and Logan Patrick MacIntyre, in a single-vehicle crash near their Judique home in July 2013. 

"If you don't want to have your child's name- that's fine. But in my situation, I want them to be an identity," she said.

Joel Cecil Chandler, 20, from Port Hood also died in the crash. Four others were injured.

"They're not a statistic. I just don't agree with that." said MacIntyre.

"Everybody's different but at least you would have the choice in that situation. You're not only a parent but you are a grieving parent. You have so much loss. You should have that right. Of all times, you should have that right to be able to say 'no I don't want my child's name to be reported or yes.' I want people to know."

The 18-year-old driver in that case will be sentenced today for dangerous driving causing death. 

Community Impact

In small communities where tragedies tend to have the most impact, people are trying to figure out what's at stake.

Community newspapers arguably have the most to lose.

"While I do understand that privacy laws have to be followed, I'm not sure it's that helpful because if the names of victims aren't made public then it's really neighbourhood gossip and social media that might fill in some erroneous information and I don't think that's really what the public needs at a time like this," said Dave Stephens, news director at Lighthouse Now. 

"They need to know who has been involved, what family members might need their support and it's unfortunate that information isn't made available in a timely manner."

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