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Lawyer laments horrific media coverage

Kim Bolan
Times Colonist (Victoria)

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

VANCOUVER - The ability of accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton to get a fair trial may be prejudiced by sensational media reports related to human remains found on Pickton's Port Coquitlam property, a prominent defence lawyer said Tuesday.

Robert Pickton is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder in connection with Vancouver's missing women case. (CP)

"I am very concerned about media coverage in this case," said Michael Tammen, a lawyer in the Air India case, who said the magnitude of the investigation in the Pickton case parallels that of the Air India case. "It could be gravely prejudicial to this chap's ability to get a fair trial."

Three alleged militant Sikh separatists are accused of conspiring to blow up two Air India planes in June of 1985. Air India Flight 182 exploded off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 aboard. Less than an hour earlier, a bomb exploded in a suitcase destined for another Air India flight at Tokyo's Narita Airport, killing two baggage handlers.

Tammen was commenting on a television news report that gave details of where police allegedly found the remains of at least two of Vancouver's missing women some months ago.

Pickton has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jacquilene McDonell, Brenda Ann Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Heather Bottomley, Diane Rock, Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.

While representatives of the joint RCMP-Vancouver police missing women's task force earlier confirmed that human remains had been recovered, they provided no details to the media or the women's families regarding those remains.

"That type of coverage clearly has a grave potential to impact on this man's ability to get a fair trial," said Tammen.

"I believe on this case that the task force and the media liaison people are well aware of that and that is why they are trying to walk the tightrope they are," said Tammen.

He earlier criticized police for not forming a task force sooner to investigate the disappearance of dozens of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"I think they have done a reasonably good job of that -- keeping the families informed on the one hand and telling the media what needs to be known while still preserving as best they can the fellow's right to a fair trial."

Tammen said he can only think of two cases -- Pickton and the Air India bombing case -- where police have continued an intense investigation after the first charges were laid.

Tammen is a defence lawyer for Ajaib Singh Bagri, one of three men charged in the Air India case.

"We know there must be all kinds of leaks," he said of the missing women case.

"People talk. People talk to their friends, spouses, significant others, colleagues, co-workers and so on and word gets out about various things."

Families of the missing women were making frantic calls to the missing women's task force to try to get more information about the television report.

But task force representatives said they could neither confirm nor deny the reports because Pickton is before the courts.

"We're not making any confirmation and we're not making any denial based on the fact that not only do we have an ongoing investigation but we've also got an accused before the courts, so we're not going to make any comment whatsoever," RCMP Const. Catherine Galliford said.

Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry has been missing for five years this month, said she was greatly disturbed by the media reports and immediately called police.

"I asked them today and they said, 'I'm sorry but we can't release any information,' " Gagnon said.

"I worry about my niece if she hears this information because it is so gruesome."

Gagnon said police did come to see her Tuesday to get blood samples from both herself and a sister. They also indicated they wanted blood from Henry's daughter, even though all the relatives provided saliva samples for DNA some months ago.

Gagnon said police did not explain why they wanted new samples.

"I thought to myself, "Are they closer to finding my sister or have they found something?' but they didn't say," Gagnon said.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa-based Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is monitoring developments in the Pickton case in B.C., official Patrick Beaudry said Tuesday.

The commission requested a copy of a recent lawsuit filed against Pickton, Vancouver police and the RCMP by Karin Joesbury, whose daughter Andrea is one of Pickton's alleged murder victims.

But Beaudry said just because he requested information from the Supreme Court registry in Victoria on the lawsuit does not mean there is any kind of investigation underway by his body.

"Don't read anything into this," Beaudry said.

"It is just to follow what's in the newspaper."

 Copyright 2002 Times Colonist (Victoria)

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