VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Defense vs media in Canada serial killer case
Thu May 26, 2005
NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The court case against accused Canadian serial killer Robert Pickton became a battle over the Internet on Thursday, and what the public should know about the police investigation that led to the pig farmer being charged with 27 murders.
News organizations have challenged Pickton's request for a precedent-setting court order for ongoing pre-trial hearings to be held behind closed doors, or to bar those who attend the public sessions from telling others what they saw or heard.
Media lawyers called the request "draconian" and warned it could prevent the public from learning full details about how Vancouver police investigated the disappearance of nearly 70 sex trade workers between the mid-1980s and late 2001.
Critics of the police say investigators ignored tips that a serial killer was at work in the Pacific Coast city, and allowed the deaths to continue until Pickton's arrest in February 2002.
"This case is under the public microscope when it comes to the conduct of the Canadian criminal justice system," Robert Anderson, an attorney for the Vancouver Sun, told the trial judge in New Westminster, British Columbia.
Pickton, 55, is accused of killing 26 people who are on the list of Vancouver's missing women, as well as one woman whose name is still not known by police and is listed as "Jane Doe."
The charges are based in part on evidence collected at his pig farm in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam.
Although Canadian pre-trial hearings are open to the public, media organizations are not allowed to report on the evidence heard there until it is presented to the jury or the trial ends.
Pickton's attorney said new restrictions are needed to prevent gruesome evidence from being spread on the Internet, and depriving him of a right to an unbiased jury when the full trial gets under way in late 2005 or 2006.
Peter Ritchie cited the role that U.S. Web sites played in publishing banned evidence from the on-going Gomery inquiry into allegations of kickbacks to the Liberal Party in return for lucrative government contracts.
"The target I am concerned about is the Internet and the manner in which we can regulate those who would use the Internet for whatever purposes, be they libertarian notions, miscreants, or whatever," Peter Ritchie told the court.
Prosecutors have attempted to remain neutral, but acknowledge the gruesome nature of some of the evidence has attracted international interest.
Media attorneys said that much of the evidence was already known to reporters and members of the public who attended earlier hearings and has not been made public.
British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Geoffrey Barrow hinted he wanted the sides to craft a compromise, but Ritchie complained a "patchwork" of less broad gag orders would not protect his client's rights.
Updated: August 21, 2016