Witness protection for gang members?

Youth gang members -- not just mobsters, bikers and other traditional protectees -- should be allowed into the federal witness protection program as part of a sweeping modernization, says the RCMP.

The Mounties are also embracing intensive psychological examination of potential protectees, a national support centre for the secretive program, and an external advisory board to serve as a watchdog.

The changes are spelled out in a detailed RCMP blueprint for reforming witness protection with assistance from the federal Public Safety Department and the provinces.

Although the paper was completed in May 2010, it was released only now to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

RCMP spokeswoman Laurence Trottier, while providing few details, confirmed that at least some changes have already been introduced. She added that the witness protection program "continues to rapidly evolve."

The program, administered by the Mounties, provides measures ranging from short-term protection to permanent relocation and identity changes. The RCMP spent more than $9 million on the program in 2011-12.

Revelations five years ago that a protectee committed murder while in the program triggered a review and discussion that continues to this day.

The federal government has been working for years on revamping the witness protection regime following recommendations from a Commons committee, an inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing and extensive consultations with the provinces.

Several provinces have their own witness protection programs, but often they provide only short-term assistance. In addition, obtaining new federal identity documents for protectees requires co-operation with the Mounties.

The RCMP paper says whether the provinces opt for their own programs or not, the Mounties must ensure its witness protection services are "better able to respond to current challenges" such as street and youth gang violence.

As a result, the Mounties propose the admission criteria for the federal program be expanded to accommodate "a broader spectrum of eligible witnesses," says the paper.

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