KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – I remember being taken aback when I first arrived in Nova Scotia a long time ago, reading the full names and addresses of people involved in the criminal justice system in the newspapers. In Holland, where I was born, identities of accused and even convicted people are never published. Even mentioning their names in a Facebook post is against the law. Instead, reporters use the accused’s first name and the last name initial, instead of Robert Devet they would write Robert D.
Ever since, I have felt that Canadian habit of putting people’s full names and addresses in the media, especially when merely accused of a crime, as mean spirited and doing more damage than good.
Keep in mind that you’re not only revealing the name of a person who has not yet been found guilty of any crime, you’re also harming an entire family, exposing kids to bullying by classmates, and stigmatizing partners who have done nothing wrong.
Sometimes that bullying turns into something much more dangerous. The Black woman who violently swung a dog in that now infamous confrontation between several people in Dartmouth is facing a haunting on social media that is violent and racist, with people writing things like “only Black people do this to animals.”
This type of public shaming then also easily turns into vigilantism. That same woman saw her address and photos of her children published on Facebook, and people calling for others to find and lynch her, to hold a public hanging, and so on.
We also must recognize that the targets of this kind of media exposure are often poor, vulnerable, traumatized and living with mental health issues. Criminalizing such people isn’t helpful in the first place, piling on even more trouble through publication of names and addresses only makes things worse.
Remember also that because of Google this information will follow you essentially forever, making job searches and things like that more difficult.
It’s also not fair. Not all crimes are treated equally in the media. White collar crimes, often the most damaging to society as a whole, are frequently settled by lawyers before they even reach the prosecution stage.
As I said, in Holland publishing names of anybody involved in the criminal justice system is strictly forbidden, mostly for the reasons I laid out here. This rule applies to both the accused as well as people found guilty of a crime. Dutch people are perfectly fine with that.
There are some exceptions to these rules. In some cases publication of a name is deemed to be in the public interest. There’s a mechanism to let the world know that say a politician was caught taking bribes. Or when you are the supposed criminal, and you want to tell the world, that’s fine too. The dutch counterpart of Santina Rao could publicly fight unfair criminal accusations just as easily.
If it were up to me Canada would follow the dutch example, but I realize that’s asking for a huge change. That said, I would love to see a discussion about those cases where people are merely charged with a crime. Do we really need to know their names?
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