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Ottawa set to expand witness protection program

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews listens to Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais as they speak about witness protection programs during an announcement in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government says it wants to expand its witness protection program and make it easier for those under provincial protection to change their identities.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is expected to introduce amendments to the Witness Protection Program Act Tuesday morning.

The proposed amendments would increase the length of time witnesses can receive emergency protection and expand protection to include people referred to the program by federal departments and agencies responsible for national security, defence or public safety.

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Currently, only law enforcement agencies and some foreign agencies can refer witnesses to the federal program.

The amendments are also aimed at putting more limits on what information can be disclosed and smoothing the path for provincially-protected witnesses to obtain new identification documents.

Last month, NDP MP Olivia Chow called for more support for the federal witness protection program, pointing to the difficulty Toronto police have faced in convincing witnesses to this summer's mass shooting at a block party on Danzig Street to come forward.

In the year ending in March 2012, the federal witness protection program admitted 30 people out of a total of 108 it considered, at a cost of just over $9-million.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae noted that intimidation of potential witnesses in the 1985 Air India bombing case was a clear problem.

"What we want to do is make sure that where we know there are circumstances which are going to give rise to intimidation, that in fact people are genuinely and deeply protected and have the confidence that they in fact will be protected."

Mr. Rae said he would wait to hear "from the experts in the field" as to whether the new legislation goes far enough. "I think the fact that we have the legislation in front of us is a good sign."

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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