Pickton lawyers seek action against media

Defence team argues news agencies have breached ban on publication of evidence

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Lawyers for accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton want a provincial court judge to take action against Canadian and American news agencies they feel breached a ban on publication of evidence.

Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun / Peter Ritchie speaks with reporters outside courthouse.

Lead defence lawyer Peter Ritchie told Judge David Stone Tuesday that he felt several measures could be taken to deal with the breaches, including criminal charges, a contempt of court citation, ordering certain people out of the courtroom or clarifying the ban.

"Both Canadian and foreign media, specifically American media, are ignoring the ban on publication," Ritchie said.

"We have been in touch with the RCMP."

He provided an affidavit to the court with copies of some of the articles, broadcasts and Internet sites, calling the examples "clear and obvious breaches of the ban on publication."

Last month, Ritchie tried to get the courtroom closed to the public -- including families of Pickton's alleged victims and the media -- saying that evidence would leak out and taint potential jurors, jeopardizing Pickton's right to a fair trial.

Stone ruled at the time that the courtroom would stay open, though he said he would be prepared to address problems if they arose.

Evidence in Pickton's preliminary hearing was called for the first time Monday.

By Tuesday morning, both Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie and defence lawyer Adrian Brooks told Stone they had concerns about some of the media coverage related to Monday's evidence.

Brooks said Ritchie, who was not in court during the Tuesday morning session, would bring forth an application this morning.

But Ritchie then appeared before Stone at the start of evidence Tuesday afternoon, saying he was so concerned about the issue, he wanted it dealt with as soon as possible.

Petrie said he had not had time to read the affidavit and also felt some media agencies would want counsel present, so Stone told everyone to come back today.

He also told lawyers that he was not prepared to revisit an absolute ban, though he would consider their submissions on banning media outlets.

"I am not excluding the public -- the victims' families," Stone said.

Few family members attended Tuesday's court session, though a day earlier, the courtroom had been packed.

Pickton, a 53-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, is accused of being Canada's most prolific serial killer. Since last February, he has been charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Relatives of another four women have been notified their loved one's DNA has been found on Pickton's property, though no charges have been laid.

The list of missing women now stands at 63.

Outside court, both Ritchie and Petrie declined to comment.

But Brooks told reporters the defence team is organizing someone to monitor all news reports on the case.

"We do want to make sure that the atmosphere remains as clear as it possibly can and that during a preliminary hearing when only one side of a story is being told that that story not be one that affects ultimately jurors," Brooks said.

"The concerns are always of a fair trial. That's where we want to be. We want to pick a jury that has an open mind about everything they are going to hear at a trial."

Geoffrey Gaul, who speaks for Crown prosecutors, said police would investigate any breaches of the ban.

"The issue has come up. Counsel are going to be dealing with it appropriately in court and then we will take it from there," Gaul said.

The joint Vancouver Police-RCMP Missing Women's Task Force issued a statement Tuesday confirming police are investigating the matter and would be making no other comments for now.

Several American reporters said they intend to have lawyers representing them today, as do some Canadian news outlets, including The Vancouver Sun.

Before Stone, Ritchie mentioned several foreign news agencies as having violated the ban, including newspapers, television stations and their Internet Web sites.

He also specifically named Associated Press freelancer Jeremy Hainsworth, a Canadian, who later declined to comment.

But AP official David Tomlin said from New York that the news cooperative had intended to follow the ban and had obtained Canadian legal advice on how to proceed.

"We believe we have done our best to avoid a confrontation with the court. Our intention was to comply with the order banning publication in the Vancouver area," Tomlin said.

He said AP did not send its story to its Canadian distributor -- the Canadian Press -- in order to comply.

"All other transmissions were accompanied by an editor's note calling attention to the publication ban," Tomlin said. "On advice from counsel familiar with Canadian criminal procedure, we believe these steps were sufficient and took them in good faith."

Asked how much international interest there is in the Pickton story, Tomlin said: "It seems to be a matter of spectacular crimes and grievous harm to the communities where these people have died, so I would say there is intense public interest. I would say there would be worldwide interest." 

 Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

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Updated: August 21, 2016