Forensic hypnosis is, apparently, “useful in eliciting information from a complainant, victim or witness,” according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The idea of crossing Sigmund Freud with a mountie may seem ludicrous, but support for hypnosis is the public position of the RCMP’s Truth Verification Section — at least for now.
“Hypnosis is intended to enhance memory recall,” reads a pamphlet and corresponding website prepared by the small unit within the police force. The website was updated in 2016.
“Operational policy advises members of the Supreme Court decision and the RCMP does not use hypnosis as a technique”
While the language emphasises that hypnosis is “not to establish the truth,” and that any information gleaned “must be verified and/or corroborated through careful investigation,” it also bills the pseudoscience as a way of “determining the veracity of subjects” including victims.
The document stresses that hypnosis is not for use in a courtroom. The practice, of course, has been banned in Canadian courts for a decade — something not mentioned in the documents.
The federal police force’s apparent fondness for the demonstrably unreliable practise appeared to surprise even the police force itself — the RCMP told Vice News it has abandoned the practice — despite part of its website saying otherwise.
“Operational policy advises members of the Supreme Court decision and the RCMP does not use hypnosis as a technique,” an RCMP spokesperson said in an email.
VICE News originally filed an access to information request asking for any documents pertaining to hypnosis, only to find out there were none. The RCMP operational manual states specifically that “the RCMP Truth Verification Section does not support the use of hypnosis,” the force said in a response letter.
In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada banned testimony elicited through hypnosis.
“While hypnosis has been the subject of extensive study and peer review, much of the literature is inconclusive or highly contradictory regarding the reliability of the science in the judicial context,” the majority court wrote.
“We will be updating our website shortly”
This raises a question. Why, a full decade after the court decision — on a page updated last year — did the RCMP continue to extol the virtues of forensic hypnosis?
“We will be updating our website shortly,” an RCMP spokesman told Vice News on Thursday after reviewing the site.
This isn’t the only unreliable science that has been used by the RCMP. As VICE News reported last March, the RCMP deployed the Truth Verification Section to conduct polygraph tests in Ottawa after a gunman opened fire on Parliament Hill. Polygraphs, or lie detector tests, are not admissible in court and have been criticised by scientists as ineffective.