A controversial interrogation technique that placed some University of Alberta students and staff under intense psychological scrutiny will not be used again by security staff, the university has announced.
Objections were raised after the school's use of the Verbal Inquiry Effectiveness Witness (VIEW) was revealed in an article in the Edmonton Journal. Even a senior administrator added his voice to the outrage when he called the technique "awful".
Although it was used only once last May as a tool to investigate a departmental incident, many believe that by using it the university crossed over some boundaries of civil rights.
Developed in 1984 as a cheap alternative to the polygraph, VIEW asks questions such as "Were you afraid while completing this form? If your answer to the last question was yes, give us one reason why," and "Should we believe your answers?" The technique, usually used for multiple suspect investigations, attempts to get a suspect to unknowingly reveal their guilt through their written responses. It also asks the respondent for such things as a detailed account of their day, covering the times from when they got up until they went to bed.
University security officials attained VIEW from a four-day workshop on interrogation techniques in Phoenix, Arizona. The questionnaire was brought in to solve a mystery in the university's English department where confidential papers had gone missing. Fifty people had access to the department. The technique was used on ten of them.
The use of the questionnaire apparently helped campus security to find out who had stolen the documents. But a Journal editorial on the subject argued: "Cattle prods and thumbscrews also produce quick confessions, but we don't use them in this country."
Last May, after a graduate student involved in that English department investigation came forward to complain about the technique, the Alberta senior administrator responsible for security decided to put a halt to the university's use of VIEW.
But somehow that administrator, who retired a month later, did not get word to security. So when the Journal questioned security staff on the controversy last month, they thought VIEW was still part of their arsenal.
Vice-president Glenn Harris said the controversy was a simple mix-up. "But I don't want to downplay the issue. Some people were profoundly uncomfortable."
He said the senior administration decided that the technique, used by many North American police forces and some large corporations, did not belong on campus and that any future investigation that would warrant such a questionnaire would be turned over to police.