Last week the OPP released information about a large operation it had carried out the week before arresting 16 people allegedly involved in a drug trafficking operation with drugs weapons and/or theft charges. Thirteen of those 16 people are residents of Haliburton County.
The information went up on the Times website and the website of sister publication the Haliburton County Echo and was shared on social media. It wasn’t long before the predictable calls to release the names of the accused began to appear on Facebook.
And that’s natural human curiosity; in just the same way many of us will crane our necks to survey an automobile accident we are passing by.
As some of you may be aware the Echo and Times have a long-standing editorial policy of not printing the names of those charged with crimes unless they are major crimes such as murder or if those people pose an immediate risk to public safety before they’ve been convicted.
The reason for this policy is simple; it’s to prevent those who may be found innocent from having their reputations forever stained on the great and permanent concrete slab of the internet. It is a central tenet of our criminal justice system that those charged with crimes are presumed to be innocent until their guilt can be proven in a court of law the burden of that proof lying with prosecutors. However the nature of the cynical human brain and of many a commentator in the kangaroo court of social media is to automatically declare those accused of a crime as guilty. Get out the pitchforks. Don’t wait for any facts.
It’s a central tenet of journalism to publish information that serves the greater good. Does releasing the names of those charged with crimes before they’ve been convicted do that? Or does it just satisfy public curiosity?
The reason we choose not to publish the names of people charged with crimes before they have been convicted of them is in essence to protect them and their families from having their reputations unfairly harmed. How would those crying for the names of the accused feel if those names belonged to some of their own friends or family? What if it was a son or daughter? One of their parents?
Haliburton County is still a very small community and for year-round residents the degrees of separation between any of us are probably not more than two or three at most. In the eyes of the law those charged with a crime are given the presumption of innocence until a court decides otherwise.
That’s why we do things the way we do them. As you’re likely aware there are news sources that will release the names of those charged so anyone who really wants to find the names from the drug ring arrest or any other arrest is certainly able to find them.
They just won’t find them here.