One of the questions we are asked frequently at Calgary Humane Society is why we do not release “live” updates on cruelty investigations via our social media channels and why we do not make details of investigations available to the general public.
Today on the blog, we attempt to answer this difficult question!
Calgary Humane Society is appointed by the Provincial government to enforce the Animal Protection Act of Alberta. This means that Calgary Humane Society’s Protection and Investigations department is a law enforcement agency under the umbrella of a non-profit and registered charity. As a law enforcement agency they are legally and ethically bound to adhere to certain codes of conduct. While up to the minute updates via social media can be very useful in certain cases (i.e. searching for a missing person or animal), in the context of an investigation “live tweets” or up to the minute updates can become a conflict of interest. Other departments at CHS, including Senior Managers, are not even privy to the details of investigations. Typically details are not released until such time as they become public record. The exception to this is those investigations where public assistance keep an investigation from dead-ending. In those cases the risk of release is weighed against the reward of a viable lead.
First, the information obtained during an investigation often changes rapidly. Our investigators are trained to evaluate the information as they receive it and are very cautious about labelling something a “fact” in the case too early. Releasing this rapidly changing information to the public can result in misunderstandings about what has been proven and what is alleged. Unfortunately, these misunderstandings can have serious consequences. For example, witnesses with important information about the case may not come forward to investigators if they think the case is already “solved” or “proven”.
Statements from witnesses could also be called in to question if the witnesses have been exposed to a lot of information about a case via social media before speaking with investigators. The human brain is excellent at making connections between pieces of information, so a witness could accidentally start incorporating information from social media into their witness statement without realizing it. Our investigators need witness statements to be as untainted as possible in order to build the highest integrity case.
Next, Canadian law and the Charter of Right and Freedoms afford certain rights to those who are accused of a crime. One of the most important rights being that those accused of a crime are assumed innocent until being proven guilty. This is the foundation of the Canadian justice system. Unfortunately, the court of public opinion is often not as forgiving. When developments in a case are “live-tweeted” or disseminated over social media, this can have tragic implications.
One very public example of this occurred recently in the United States. When the Sandy Hook school shootings took place the initial reports stated that Ryan Lanza was responsible and it was not until later that the media corrected the report and clarified that Adam Lanza was the perpetrator. Even though the report was corrected, Ryan Lanza’s photo and Facebook page had already been posted across thousands of media outlets and he had received numerous death threats for a crime he didn’t commit.
Finally, releasing too much information can jeopardize the outcome of an investigation. Legal investigations are complex and must follow certain protocol detailed within Canadian law. Performing a proper investigation and prosecution file typically involves a great deal of documentation and collaboration with other enforcement entities such as the police or crown prosecutors. Under Canadian law, if certain legal protocols are breached, it can actually prevent a court case from being successful due to a violation of the accused’s rights.
Providing “live” updates increases the risk that there could be miscommunications or privacy breaches that result in evidence being ruled inadmissible or a case being dismissed due to a failure to follow proper protocol. Our investigators spend a significant amount of time, sometimes hundreds of hours, conducting an investigation and preparing a case to be brought to court. All of that work is put at risk if confidential information about the case is released.
While we must be careful when releasing information about investigations, Calgary Humane Society is committed to ensuring that our supporters continue to see the results from our Protections and Investigations team. While there are limits on the information we can release about active cases, we do remain committed to providing information to our supporters by posting copies of our press releases and statements on our social media feeds.
Updates on cases that are pending before the courts can also be found in each edition of Connecting Lives magazine that is available in hard copy and on our website. Yearly statistics for our Protection and Investigation team are also made available in our Annual General Report.