The Honourable Irwin Cotler
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
July 1, 2004
Dear Minister Cotler:
I am writing to you to seek clarification on the issue of the retention of evidence in criminal cases in Canada. Specifically, I would like to know what the laws, policies, or procedures are for safely retaining physical evidence in Canada at the Federal, Provincial, regional and municipal level. Are these standards (if they even exist) set by individual police units, or are they mandated by law at a higher authority?
This is an issue that is very personal to me. Allow me to share a story. Recently I was speaking with an investigator with the Surete du Quebec. This investigator is currently in charge of the investigation into the murder of my sister, Theresa Allore; a case that has long gone cold, her death occurred over 25-years ago. The investigator is a very good man, and he was relating to me what a shame it was that physical evidence from my sister’s case had been discarded less than five years after she died. Without that evidence, it was making it very difficult for the Surete to build a case against the individual we both believe was the offender in this crime. Again, this investigator related to me that the disposal of evidence was unfortunate, but we must move on and not dwell on that. We must find another approach, no matter how difficult, to catch the offender.
Minister Cotler, I agree with this investigator. I am not going to dwell on past mistakes. However, I would find it easier to move on if I had some assurance that such an unfortunate oversight could not possibly happen again. Unfortunately, in the past two years I have looked into the matter of evidence retention and nothing gives me confidence that there are today uniform procedures for keeping evidence.
On two occasions I have contacted the R.C.M.P. and asked them what their policy was. On both occasions the R.C.M.P. chose to ignore my request; they never returned my emails or phone calls. I have put the question to officers at the Surete du Quebec – good officers; they assured me that they would never dispose of evidence, but when pressed to come up with some documentation they were unable to do so. A matter as important as evidence retention should not be left to the quality of the individual; yes, they might be good officers, but the public has no assurance that the next person in charge of the file will be equally dedicated. These cold cases have a way of outlasting administrative staff, it is great to have police officers with character, but have their actions backed up with policy – as the old Russian proverb goes, Trust, But Verify.
This has not been the extent of my research. I have put the question of evidence retention to Vancouver’s Police Victim Services, Ontario’s Office for Victims of Crime, Manitoba’s Organization of Victim Advocates, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime; no one has a clear idea what the laws, policies, procedures, rules are for properly keeping evidence in Canada. In the U.S. it seems that not a day passes that a cold case is solved because of a piece of evidence that was kept around for 30 to 40 years. Contrast this with the experience last year in Montreal where the urban police force threw away thousands of pieces of cold case evidence because the Montreal City Council claimed they didn’t have the storage space necessary to retain it.
So now I come to you Minister Colter. I call upon you to use your powers as both Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General to tell me in plain language; what are the laws, policies, or procedures for safely retaining physical evidence in Canada at the Federal, Provincial, regional and municipal level? Let me forewarn you; I will not appreciate it if I receive a list of names from you with instructions to hunt down this information for myself at all the various government levels. I consider that research your job, and the responsibility of your office. If I am stalled by such a maneuver, I will be forced to conclude that Canada’s Minister of Justice doesn’t know the laws, policies, and procedures governing evidence retention – a conclusion I am prepared to voice quite publicly. It may not be within your job description to keep track of such information, but I am asking you to help me and all victims to clarify these matters.
Thank you for the time and attention I know you will dedicate to this important issue.
I await your reply.