VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Australian website sells Pickton film
RCMP is attempting to determine whether the movie exists
Thursday, September 07, 2006
The RCMP is investigating an Australian website that is professing to sell copies of a movie called Killer Pickton, about accused Canadian serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton.
The U.S. company Shadow Factory Inc., which produced the low-budget horror film, says on its website that the movie has been completed.
But, unlike the other movies it promotes online, the company website doesn't provide a way for people to purchase the Pickton DVD.
However, an Australian website is claiming people can order the movie for the discounted price of $19.50 A ($16.50 Cdn), and it will be available Oct. 18.
That appears to be the first opportunity for people to order the DVD, despite the publication ban on the accused's trial.
"We certainly have an investigation that's begun on that to see where and if it [will] cross the line on the publication ban," said RCMP Staff-Sgt. John Ward, who speaks for the Missing Women Task Force.
He said the police investigation has been under way for only a few days, and will attempt to determine if the movie exists and what it contains.
Police investigated the movie last winter, but at the time could not even confirm that it existed and therefore no legal action was taken, Ward said.
Even the title, Killer Pickton, suggests the film has reached a conclusion about the accused's guilt, even though his trial does not begin for four months.
Crown counsel spokesman Stan Lowe said if the RCMP found evidence that the movie breached the publication ban in Canada, prosecutors would consider whether to pursue charges.
But at issue is that Canadian publication ban laws do not stretch beyond this country's borders. Consequently, the Internet has made it very difficult for Canadian authorities to police potential breaches of the ban in other countries.
"It's an evolving area," Lowe said of the Internet and its impact on publication ban laws. "Courts will have to resolve these issues as they arise."
Shadow Factory is based in Marina Del Rey, Calif., and produces low- and medium-budget movies. The company's website says cult film director Ulli Lommel, a "master of horror," has created a movie that "dares to tell the devastating real-life story of Canadian pig farmer Robert Pickton."
Pickton's lead defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said distribution of the American movie in Australia is not governed by the existing court order in the Pickton case. However, the matter will be monitored by the defence team and, if necessary, a new application to the court could be considered.
"I anticipate that the Canadian public, and specifically the potential jury pool, is very sensible and hopefully will stay away from this stuff," Ritchie added.
Pickton, who is accused of killing 26 women from the Downtown Eastside and is alleged to be Canada's most prolific serial killer, is no stranger to pre-trial publicity.
On Saturday, The Sun published two letters written by Pickton from the North Fraser Pretrial Centre where he is incarcerated to a California pen pal. In the letters, Pickton professed his innocence, was critical of the police investigation and commented on the development of the trial.
Ritchie said he does not think the article will affect the defence's case or jury selection, which is scheduled for mid-December.
"I would think that as the months unfold this type of publicity will be considerably in the past, so I'm not worried about it," he said.
While Ritchie said a defence lawyer "would prefer to have a case resolved inside a courtroom without any of these extraneous considerations," he insisted an accused should not be prohibited from writing letters from jail.
Veteran trial lawyer David Crossin, who represented Ripudaman Singh Malik in the Air India trial -- the largest legal proceedings in B.C.'s history --knows what it's like to defend someone when a case is under scrutiny by the media and the public.
However, Air India was tried by a judge alone, and the pre-trial publicity will be more of a challenge for Pickton's defence team if the case proceeds with a jury, Crossin said.
The existence of a movie even before the trial begins may result in the judge deciding to undertake more extensive questioning and screening of the Pickton jury pool so 12 unbiased people can be found, he added.
However, the issue of a U.S. film being promoted on an Australia website demonstrates how "impossible" it is to police today's laws that attempt to keep information about a case from reaching potential jurors.
"What will the RCMP do about a website in Australia? . . . There's a whole host of problems," said Crossin.
He noted the issue may require the justice system to take a future look at either how publication bans are enforced or how jury panels are chosen.
Crossin said the publication of an accused's letters from jail may or may not affect the defence's case, depending on what the accused has written.
Crossin does not believe it is necessary to prohibit an accused from writing letters from prison, noting it was Pickton's decision to trust that his pen pal would not give his personal notes to the media.
(Pickton's pen pal Thomas Loudamy, a California warehouse worker who writes to hundreds of inmates, said he handed over the letters so the public could learn something about the accused serial killer.)
The RCMP's Ward said police are not investigating the letters, but would like to see unedited copies of the correspondence to determine if there is any information that is pertinent to the case. (The Sun posted only excerpts of the letters on its website on Saturday.)
In January, an online petition against the Killer Pickton movie was organized by a group that identified itself as Downtown Eastside women. The petition, which collected 1,240 signatures, says, in part: "This film serves only to feed the prurient interests of misogynists, while making violence against women a commodity. We feel the film is disrespectful to the memories of the murdered and missing women and their families."
Sandra Gagnon, sister of missing woman Janet Henry, said her late brother Lance Henry and Janet's adult daughter Debra both signed the petition earlier this year because they were so opposed to the thought of the film being distributed in Canada.
Gagnon was incensed Wednesday that the movie now appears to be available for purchase on the Internet when Pickton's pre-trial hearings are still underway, and his actual trial isn't scheduled to begin until January 2007.
"How can they release the movie when the trial hasn't even started yet," asked Gagnon, of Maple Ridge.
"It's just not right. They don't even consider our feelings, what happened to our loved ones -- especially the kids involved, they're going to be hearing about it at school."
Gagnon, who has followed the court proceedings against Pickton since his 2002 arrest, did not enjoy reading the letters published in The Sun, saying it gave him a platform which she doesn't think he deserves.
"I'd rather see no attention on [the accused] because that is what they thrive on," she said.
Pickton's pre-trial hearings resume Friday in New Westminster Supreme Court, after a six-week summer break, to arrange scheduling for the remainder of the year.
© The Vancouver Sun 2006
Updated: August 21, 2016