KAMLOOPS - A spokesperson for the Southeast District RCMP says murder investigations being kept out of the public are not common, but aren't unheard of.
This is the case with the homicide death of Kamloops man Robert Leslie Gair, a 52-year-old whose remains were found outside of the city limits, near Barnhartvale.
Police believe Gair was murdered on or about Sept. 13, 2016, but the first time the public was made aware of the homicide investigation was last week. Nearly seven months went by before the public knew a man had been murdered in their community.
Southeast District RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk issued a news release on Friday, April 7, indicating that RCMP was "continuing" its investigation into the homicide death of Gair.
There was limited information in the original release. Police weren't saying when Gair's remains had been found or why police never told the public about the murder investigation. Although there are still unanswered questions, more answers are slowly coming forward.
Moskaluk now says Gair was reported missing before his death. He says the public wasn't notified of Gair being missing while they were investigating the report.
"A media release regarding the receipt of his being reported missing was not issued," he says. "As it is with many missing persons cases, numerous investigational avenues are pursued prior to taking the step of seeking assistance from the public via public notification."
Moskaluk has not confirmed when Gair was reported missing, or by whom. He does say it's not commonplace for the Southeast District RCMP to keep a murder investigation under wraps for several months, but it can happen.
"With respect to homicide investigations, in my experience not very often, but it is not unheard of," he says. "Public notification is considered, in the event that the investigation can be advanced through the release of information to the general public and or when a public safety concern exists. We can confirm that at no time did this matter include a safety risk to the general public."
The RCMP decided to make the investigation public last week after receiving a media inquiry regarding Gair's death. Southeast District Major Crimes Unit is the department investigating the homicide, and it's based out of Kelowna.
"(Southeast District Major Crimes Unit) investigators made the careful determination that at this juncture of the investigation that the release of information could be made," Moskaluk says.
When asked by iNFOnews.ca when the investigation would have been made public had a journalist not requested information about the case, Moskaluk says commenting on what would have happened in different circumstances would be speculation.
"Had a media inquiry not been received... investigators would have continued to review the need and purpose of releasing information about Mr. Gair's death," he says.
Moskaluk didn't confirm whether or not RCMP have a person of interest or suspect in the homicide, but says charges have not yet been laid in connection to Gair's death.
This isn't the first time the public has struggled to get information out of local RCMP detachment. iNFOnews.ca ran a pair of editorials in February of last year, the first from Kamloops RCMP Insp. Sunny Parmar, the second from our news outlet's managing editor.
Parmar sounded off about criticism his detachment faced from local media when it came to releasing information to the public.
"If information is released, but there is a delay in the time it took to release it, it is typically due to officers following investigative leads to determine if a public appeal is required," Parmar wrote, quoting the Federal Privacy Act. "If there is no need to seek additional information from the public the RCMP does not have the legal right or ability to release information, and could face charges if they do."
But when the news release came in last week confirming the homicide investigation, police did ask the public for their help.
"Investigators are asking anyone with information with respect to Robert Leslie Gair's murder, to contact the Major Crime Unit at 250-469-7800 or Crimestoppers."
In a more recent case out of Kelowna, a man died while in RCMP custody nine days ago and his identity has yet to be released.
A LACK OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION
Longtime Vancouver Sun crime reporter Kim Bolan says the lack of public information being shared by RCMP has been part of a trend in recent years. She has seen police agencies keep homicide investigations quiet, but not often.
"It is rare and I think the media is right to challenge the police when they refuse to give us information about a homicide when obviously it’s in the broader community’s interest to know when the violent crimes occur," she says.
Bolan says RCMP should have at least informed the public that human remains had been found when they were recovered.
"They should have released the fact that human remains had been found," she says. "It is surprising, it’s disturbing to members of the public for sure."
In Friday's news release, RCMP indicated there was no threat to the general public regarding Gair's murder and Moskaluk echoed that in a follow up interview.
But Bolan says the public generally feels more secure when police communicate whether they have a suspect or person of interest in mind.
"As a long time journalist... I believe it’s in the public interest to know when a homicide has occurred in a community," she says. "They have a right to know if police are aware that there are suspects in a case and if they’re not aware that there are suspects. The public can perhaps assist in a police investigation, yet if you don’t have the basic details of what occurred, how can you possibly come forward with information that might help solve a case?
"It is very frustrating, it’s troubling, at the very least police should be explaining why they didn’t release this information at the time and why they’re giving so little information out even now."
Bolan says it's likely there are legitimate reasons why police kept this case quiet for so long, and now that the investigation is public, those reasons should be released.
"Police work for the public, they’re paid by taxpayers and how they’re doing their job, it’s very important for the public to know and understand that," she says. "Maybe there is some justification for the delay in releasing this information, but they still owe the public an explanation, right? Because they work for us."
This is part of a pattern that has taken place in the past few years, Bolan says, where police are becoming more tight-lipped than they once were.
"As a journalist that really bothers me," she says. "This is a very extreme example of that, where someone was actually murdered and they didn’t tell the public that until a journalist pursued it and kind of got it confirmed."
She compares it to other cases where the public is aware a murder has taken place, but the name of the murder victim has not been released.
"That’s public information. Maybe it’s my neighbour, maybe it’s someone I know and I might have some information that could help," she says. "But if they don’t release those names publicly, it creates a lot of speculation and it’s also just, I think, damaging to the public’s confidence in police."
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