VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pickton ban broken, U.S. network claims
Friday, February 06, 2004
An American news network aired a story this week that it claimed broke the sweeping publication ban in the court proceedings involving accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton.
Fox News said its story contains "horrifying evidence" that Canadian reporters are prohibited from revealing because of the publication ban imposed on Pickton's six-month preliminary hearing in 2003.
The Fox story aired Wednesday, however, is very short and provides few insights into the case. One of the details reported by Fox was published by some Canadian media outlets in 2002 before the ban was put in place, and at least one other piece of information in the story is inaccurate.
The story, by Seattle-based reporter Dan Stringer, also says Pickton's trial is to begin in June. In fact, he is to appear in court in June to set a trial date, but the trial is not likely to start until late this year, at the earliest.
A court-imposed publication ban is mandatory in Canada in all preliminary hearings, to prevent tainting future jury pools.
Some American news outlets published or broadcast specific details of the evidence presented in court at the beginning of Pickton's preliminary hearing in January, 2003.
At the time, provincial court Judge David Stone, who presided over the preliminary hearing, threatened to have individual journalists barred from the courtroom if they continued to violate the ban, and noted that breaching a ban on publication could result in a criminal conviction and two years in jail.
Despite his warnings, Stone did not go as far as Pickton's defence team wanted -- he did not ban American media outlets from the courtroom.
"I'm not excluding anybody from the courtroom, but the parties have been put on notice," Stone warned. "If this doesn't sink in, if these problems persist, then we'll start restricting access."
Stone also ordered that the original ban on publication be expanded to specifically include reproduction on the Internet.
On Thursday, RCMP Corporal Catherine Galliford said police will investigate all alleged breaches of court orders in the high-profile case.
"We do have a protocol in place, with regard to our publication ban, and our criminal investigation unit will be following up on any potential breaches," she said. "Charges will be laid where merited."
So far, she said, the media have abided by the ban and no charges have been laid.
Galliford said she would not comment on the accuracy of the Fox report.
Fox spokeswoman Irena Briganti said the story was aired this week because "it just came to light within the U.S. recently." She said the network is not concerned about repercussions of breaking the Canadian ban.
"Canadian police have not contacted us at all, and it wasn't a consideration whether our reporters might be banned from the courtroom, since the ban didn't apply to the U.S. media," Briganti said.
Springer says in his report: "Perhaps most shocking of all to Americans is the fact that the Canadian media has been barred from reporting specific details of the crime spree. Their criminal justice system puts a premium on privacy and they try to avoid tainting a jury at all costs, but critics say this media blackout only serves to keep the police from handling public scrutiny."
B.C. media lawyer Rob Anderson said U.S. courts generally do not impose mandatory publication bans on proceedings such as preliminary hearings and bail hearings, which automatically are protected in Canada. But despite that, Anderson said, American journalists are barred from reporting on some U.S. hearings and generally respect those bans.
Crown spokesman Geoffrey Gaul, who had not seen the Fox report, said there are concerns any time a publication ban is broken.
Police and anthropologists sifted through dirt on Pickton's Port Coquitlam pig farm for more than 18 months, collecting thousands of exhibits -- many of which still await testing at the RCMP lab.
The missing women task force has said the DNA of 31 women has been found, and confirmed most of those samples were located on the pig farm.
Four of the DNA samples are of women who are unidentified, while the rest belong to people on the task force's missing women list.
© The Vancouver Sun 2004
Updated: August 21, 2016