IHIT withholding most murder victims’ names in 2016

IHIT Withholding Most Murder Victims' Names In 2016 Chalkline images, generic, for crime stories. Uploaded May 2016. Crime, police, murder, slaying, killings, evidence. [PNG Merlin Archive]iStockphoto / Vancouver Sun IHIT Withholding Most Murder Victims' Names In 2016 Raymond Jopowicz was murdered in Burnaby on April 3. / Vancouver Sun

Ray Jopowicz had links to organized crime and spent years in a U.S. prison after being caught handing 43 kilograms of cocaine to a Canadian trucker in California. He was captured on wiretap setting up the exchange, using the pseudonym Don and talking in code. U.S. law enforcement agents watched as he handed duffel bags stuffed with $640,000 to an associate in the parking lot of store called Smart and Final in Baldwin Park, Calif. Jopowicz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and was handed a 10-year sentence.

He got transferred to a Canadian prison in late 2013 and was up before the Parole Board of Canada a few months later. He was released with the special condition that he not associate with anyone involved in criminal activity. On April 3, he was gunned down just after 8 p.m. on the popular Byrne Creek Ravine trail in Burnaby. But homicide investigators didn t think it was in the public interest to release Jopowicz s name or any details of his dark criminal past despite making no arrest in his murder.

The Vancouver Sun learned his identity from a community source. The 41-year-old father of two is one of 15 nameless victims of murders so far this year in the jurisdiction of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team. In 2015, IHIT Canada s biggest homicide squad publicly identified all but three confirmed murder victims in the region, according to a Sun analysis of news releases and tweets.

But a policy shift has meant the agency that investigates killings in all Lower Mainland RCMP and some municipal police jurisdictions is no longer routinely telling citizens the names of people who have died violently in their communities. Just Monday, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound issued a news release saying a Surrey man named Mandeep Bhatti had been charged with manslaughter in a May 2 assault that led to the death of a relative. The victim was not named. Pound refused to release the relative s identity when asked by a Sun reporter.

Based on direction from our national HQ, we can release the vic name when there is an investigative need to do so, she said in an email. In this case, there is no investigative need as we have the suspect identified and charged.

Lisa Taylor, a lawyer and assistant professor at Ryerson University s School of Journalism, said the police have an obligation to release names and other important information to the public. And she said there s been a disturbing trend across Canada where police are increasingly refusing to publicly identify victims in murder cases. She is compiling a national database to document the issue. Murder is not a private matter, Taylor said. In Canada s legal system, it s considered a crime against the public at large.

This is a matter of public interest. The public should have all the information the public can possibly have. Yes, to a certain extent, it may feel like there s an intrusion on surviving family members privacy. But I m guessing that s pretty small in the scheme of their loss. We have so many instances in our society of times when privacy is overridden by other compelling public interests, Taylor said.

Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon, who works at RCMP national headquarters, said the federal Privacy Act prohibits the force from disclosing names without the consent of the individual to whom it relates. Asked how murder victims could consent to their names being released, Gagnon said: A deceased person keeps his/her right to privacy even after passing away. Names are released when necessary to further an investigation, she said.

But in most of the cases where names have been withheld by IHIT this year, no charges have been laid, according to the Sun s analysis. On May 11, a man was found shot to death in an Abbotsford blueberry field. No name was released. On March 21, IHIT appealed for information after a Mission woman died from injuries sustained in an attack two weeks earlier. No name was released. On March 14, IHIT announced it had taken over an Abbotsford file after a man injured in a shooting four days earlier had died. No name was released. On March 11, a man was found dead from gunshot wounds after his car crashed in Surrey. No name was released. And in some of the news releases, like the nameless one issued after Jopowicz was shot, investigators are appealing for the public s assistance.

Taylor said it makes no sense for police to ask for the public s help while not identifying the victim.

It really does kind of diminish all the potential that is there to have public assistance, she said. It s dishonest to suggest the Privacy Act precludes the names from being released, Taylor said. Vancouver Police, which is not part of IHIT, usually releases the names of murder victims once relatives have been notified, Const. Brian Montague said.

There are a lot reasons to release the name of the victim, he said. It includes public interest if there should be concern for their safety. Is this a random murder or targeted due to involvement in drugs, gangs and guns?

Taylor said that with information often circulating instantly on social media, it is important for police to provide official information. Withholding victims names compels journalists to rely on less than optimal sources of information like Twitter and Facebook, she said.

It would be nice if you could basically adhere to the best principles of journalism around verification and get information from an official source, Taylor said. But instead we have a bunch of sad comments about loss on Facebook and journalists have to make the judgment call on whether to identify or not. Montague also said that rumours circulating on social media can be a problem.

The name is eventually a matter of public records anyways and with no controls on social media, it is often public knowledge before police officially release the name and we want to confirm the obvious and stop any rumours, he said.

Gagnon said that once the name is out in the public, the RCMP believes it can then be released. But in several Metro Vancouver cases this year, the media has got the name from relatives or other sources and there was still no confirmation from IHIT. The Sun reported in January that the victim of a targeted shooting in Port Coquitlam was a gang associate named Yonathan (JK) Kassa. Even though his family and friends were crowdfunding his funeral online, IHIT didn t release his name to the public.

No one has been charged in his murder.

When police don t provide much information about murder victims, public fear can be heightened, Taylor said. Or in the case of domestic murders, the victim s identity is being completely erased from his or her community.

We know that popular culture has really over-amped the degree to which we face stranger danger. But law abiding people are rarely killed randomly by strangers, Taylor said. You either have to be involved in some troubling activity like this early April homicide. Or we are killed by the people who know us and love us best.

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