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Hearing ‘issue of public trust’

Journalists 'vital' to perception of justice in Pickton case, lawyer says

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Public concern about the way police handled the missing women investigation makes it even more important to have an open preliminary hearing for accused serial killer Robert William Pickton, media lawyer Dan Burnett said Tuesday.

Jane Wolsak, Canadian Press / An artist's sketch shows Robert Pickton during proceedings in Port Coquitlam on Tuesday.

Burnett, who is representing several media outlets, told provincial court Judge David Stone that to allow Pickton's application to have an in camera hearing would give the perception that justice was not being done.

"This is the last case where anyone in the justice system should be telling the public to trust us," Burnett said on the second day of arguments over the contentious issue of closing the court.

Pickton's lawyer Peter Ritchie continued arguing Tuesday for a closed court, saying that unprecedented media interest, particularly by American reporters, means his client would be unable to get a fair trial unless the preliminary hearing is closed.

Ritchie said he thinks information from the hearing published or broadcast in the U.S. by American journalists who are not bound by a ban on publication would seep back into Canada and taint the jury pool.

Pickton, a 53-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, is charged with killing 15 women among a group of 65 missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Burnett said Canadian journalists, whom he called "vital pillars of our justice system," have a right to be in the preliminary hearing, even if there is a ban on publication until after a trial.

He said journalists not only have the right to publish or broadcast the news, but to gather it, which in this case means having access to the high-profile preliminary hearing.

"If you cut off access to the information in the first place, the rest of the right becomes meaningless," Burnett said.

Burnett, who made submissions on behalf of CBC, CityTV, CKNW and CKWX, was the last media lawyer to speak Tuesday before the proceedings were adjourned until today.

Lawyer Barry Gibson, who is representing The Vancouver Sun, the Province and Global television, said earlier that Ritchie admitted in his submissions that "the Canadian media are not the problem. We can control them."

Gibson said that Canadian journalists already know their responsibilities in terms of not providing details about a case before a trial that would unfairly prejudice potential jurors.

Any added concerns about evidence at the preliminary hearing would be alleviated by an automatic ban on publication, he said.

Canadian reporters know they can be charged with contempt of court, and take the matter very seriously, Gibson said.

"The media are here and they record history and a chapter of history is lost if they are excluded," Gibson said. "History is going to be made here in some sense."

Gibson said it is possible that Judge Stone could decide to discharge Pickton after the preliminary hearing, which would bring much criticism from the public if the preliminary hearing had been held in secret.

"Exclude the media and you exclude the ability to bring an explanation of what happened to the masses at the appropriate time," Gibson said.

Media lawyers addressed the court as "friends" and only with the consent of Ritchie and the Crown after Stone earlier ruled against granting them intervenor status.

But lawyers representing families of Vancouver's missing women, including some of Pickton's alleged victims, were denied the chance to speak after Ritchie objected.

Denis Bernsten, who was in court on behalf of the families of Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marcella Creison, said outside that he was extremely disappointed he was not allowed to make his submissions.

He said he felt it was extremely important to hear from the families, who have an interest which is different from that of the public.

And he said that, as some of his clients have filed lawsuits about the police handling of the case, it is crucial they be able to sit in court during the preliminary hearing to learn first-hand how the investigation unfolded.

"That is something that would weigh in favour of a family being present in the courtroom," he said.

Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn is among the missing, said he was also disappointed his lawyer Stan Guenther would not be allowed to make submissions.

But Crey said he understands that Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie, who is opposing the courtroom closure, will address today some of the same issues the families want raised.

Crey said he was touched Tuesday when a non-aboriginal man in the courtroom brought him a gift of sweetgrass and tobacco as a sign of support.

"That really lifted my spirits," Crey said.

Pickton sat in his special prisoner's docket again Tuesday, about a metre behind Ritchie.

Ritchie submitted a letter from the vice-president of Shaw Cable which said it would be "difficult if not impossible" to block out coverage of the preliminary hearing that would be on American news networks.

That claim was disputed by lawyer David Sutherland, who is representing four Seattle area television stations, who said his clients are in talks with Shaw to block the signals, which he understood is possible.

© Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun

Courtesy of

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016