Type of document: Prosecution Directive
Effective date: November 14, 2017

The Ministry of the Attorney General operates Ontario’s Witness Protection Program in cooperation with the Ontario Provincial Police and municipal police services in Ontario. The program represents one of the Ministry’s most significant initiatives in the battle against serious and organized crime. It plays an important role in fulfilling the Ministry’s commitment to improving support for victims of crime. The purpose of the program is to assist in protecting witnesses who have been (or may be) exposed to danger as a result of their cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences in Ontario.

The need for witness protection often arises on an emergency basis. In such situations, police services have funds available to provide interim safety measures for the witness under the Police Services Act. Police services can apply to the program to receive reimbursement for protective measures implemented on behalf of a witness.

If there is an immediate concern for a witness’s safety, the witness should call 911.

The disclosure of witness protection information is governed by a statutory privilege under the Crown Witnesses Act. The privilege pertains only to witness protection programs designated by regulation under the Act. The inappropriate disclosure of confidential witness protection information puts protected witnesses at risk and compromises the program’s integrity. A person who discloses confidential witness protection information is guilty of a provincial offence.

All applications for admission to Ontario’s Witness Protection Program must be made to the Ministry of the Attorney General, Crown Law Office – Criminal.

Criteria for admission

Ontario’s Witness Protection Program provides time-limited funding to assist in the protection, maintenance and relocation of a witness and/or family members where doing so is in the best interests of the administration of justice. Such an unusual measure may be appropriate where:

  1. the life or health of the witness and/or family members is judged by the police to be in real danger as a result of the involvement of the witness in a prosecution
  2. the case in which the witness is involved is a case of significance to the administration of justice e.g. murder, robbery, serious crimes of violence, organized crime
  3. the witness is cooperating with the police and has agreed to provide truthful testimony that is a key element of the Crown’s case
  4. the witness’s and/or their family members’ circumstances allow them to freely participate in the program (e.g. not incarcerated, no longer an undercover agent etc.) and their behavior (e.g. ability and willingness to comply with program discipline) is such that they can benefit from protective measures without themselves posing a danger to the public while in the program.

As reflected in the criteria, the program exists to respond to the most serious of circumstances in very serious cases. It is designed as a last resort. Where alternatives are available, they should be utilized.

What the program provides

Ontario’s Witness Protection Program does not provide long-term financial assistance. It is a temporary relocation and assistance program only. The program also does not provide rewards or benefits in return for testimony. Depending on the circumstances of the witness and/or family members, the program may provide security advice as well as the following:

  1. funding to cover the costs of relocation to a safe environment
  2. funding for temporary rent, utilities, food and maintenance
  3. assistance in obtaining social assistance benefits under the new name and in the new locale
  4. funding to cover the costs of specifically approved security measures
  5. where appropriate, funding to cover exceptional medical expenses including, where appropriate, psychological counselling
  6. where appropriate, assistance in changing names and obtaining new identification documents
  7. where appropriate, funding for time-limited and specifically approved upgrades to employment skills or education.

Application process

Issues respecting the acceptance of a witness into the program, the determination of the nature and amount of assistance provided and the management of the witness are dealt with in an impartial and independent fashion by a local senior independent Prosecutor. The Prosecutor assigned to the prosecution must not be involved in this assessment and process except that she must confirm that the witness is willing and able to testify and that their anticipated testimony is a key element of the Crown’s case.

The Prosecutor must not discuss witness protection matters with the witness except to the extent necessary to prepare them for their testimony. The level and type of assistance provided to the witness must not form part of any plea resolutions or other arrangements.

The senior independent Prosecutor will ensure that the Prosecutor and investigators have provided the witness protection officer with all of the information needed to complete an application for program assistance must review a witness protection application. The senior independent Prosecutor must certify, if appropriate, that the use of witness protection is in the best interests of the administration of justice.

The preparation of applications and handling of witnesses accepted into Ontario’s Witness Protection Program, including the implementation of protective measures, is the responsibility of specialized provincial and municipal witness protection officers who are independent of the investigator of the underlying offence. Counsel in the Crown Law Office – Criminal with expertise in witness protection matters are assigned to review witness protection applications independent of the prosecution team. The approval of the Deputy Attorney General is required to enter the program.

The officer conducting an investigation involving a witness in need of protection will refer the witness’s safety concerns to a designated witness protection officer within their police service. The witness protection officer will make an independent assessment of the witness’s security needs.

Acceptance into program

A witness who has been accepted in the program must sign a standard Letter of Acknowledgement (describing the general nature of the financial and other assistance approved for the witness) before any funds (interim protection assistance funds excepted) are disbursed by the police. The Prosecutor will be advised by letter from the reviewing counsel in the Crown Law Office – Criminal that the witness has been accepted into the program and a copy of the Letter of Acknowledgement will be made available in the event that it is required as an exhibit.