An ArmchairMayor.ca editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
THE CONCEPT of keeping secret the names of people who have died does not make sense in this modern world of transparency and rapid dissemination of information.
Yet the B.C. Coroners Service, as reported this week by CFJC Today, is reviewing its policy on releasing names of the dead, and the result might be that it’s tougher to find out the identities of those who have died in events that are themselves well-known to the public.
In times past, the Coroners’ Service has been a convenient and proper source for such information. There was a natural sequence to the communications flow — police would release to the public, via the media, information on such things as fatal accidents or homicide investigations.
That would be followed a couple of days later by the Coroners Service releasing the name of the victim. The slight gap in between allowed for notification of next of kin, which is a reasonable restriction to spare families the shock of learning of the death of a loved one in the media.
There were occasions in which a family, for reasons known only to its members, wanted a name withheld altogether. In such cases, the Coroners Service would make a call on whether to abide by that wish. It was always a controversial situation when a name was withheld.
While families have a right to privacy when they lose a loved one, the names of our citizens belong to everyone.
This new policy review has the feel of a trend toward increased restrictions on the release of names and, if that’s the case, it will be a retrograde and unwarranted step.
The public has a natural interest in knowing the names of people who have died in public circumstances such as the pedestrian who died after being hit by a vehicle on Westsyde Road last week.
An argument can be made that there is even is an inherent right to know reasonable details of events that impact a community. Anonymity for victims of unfortunate events doesn’t fit with that concept.
There’s a fine line between idle or morbid curiosity and that important principle of freedom of information, but it’s one that has been successfully met in the past, and there’s no reason to change it. It’s entirely possible to meet the needs of grieving families while providing the community at large with basic information, including the identities of those it has lost.