Pickton, Air India lawyers clash in hearing

Dispute over disclosing pay

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The two largest criminal investigations in Canadian history collided in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday when lawyers for two Air India suspects argued against turning over their financial records to a lawyer representing accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton.

Lawyers for Ajaib Singh Bagri and Inderjit Singh Reyat, both of whom are charged in the 1985 Air India bombing, said the rate they are being paid by the B.C. government is privileged and should not be given to a lawyer for Pickton, who is accused of murdering 15 of the 63 women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The 1985 bombing, which killed 329 people, remains the worst mass murder in Canada, while Pickton is accused of being Canada's most prolific serial killer.

Bagri and Reyat earlier entered into agreements with the provincial ministry of the attorney-general to cover their legal bills in the Air India case, which goes to trial next March. (A third accused, Ripudaman Singh Malik, is getting some funding under an interim agreement from the ministry.)

Pickton is seeking, through lawyer Peter Ritchie, to enter into a similar agreement but is not satisfied with the funds being offered.

Pickton's preliminary hearing, which was due to begin this week, has been delayed in provincial court until Nov. 12 so Ritchie can continue his fight for government funding in B.C. Supreme Court.

Bagri's lawyer, Michael Tammen, told Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm that he only learned Ritchie was seeking the financial information about the Air India arrangements through the media and did not receive a subpoena.

"I shouldn't have to hear about it in the media," Tammen said.

Outside court, he reiterated that if the demand for the information goes further, "we will assert our client's privacy rights and privilege."

Ritchie has hired Victoria lawyer Joe Arvay to subpoena the records of the Air India rates from government officials.

But the lawyer heading Reyat's publicly-funded defence team is Ritchie's legal partner, prominent defence lawyer David Gibbons.

Gibbons did not appear in court Tuesday, but sent lawyer David Martin, who is also on the Reyat team.

"Mr. Gibbons has instructed me to come and assert Mr. Reyat's privilege," Martin told Dohm.

Dohm told the Air India lawyers that he was not interested in specific details of their funding arrangements, but thought a government official could be subpoenaed to testify generally about other cases the ministry is currently funding above and beyond legal aid rates, which are known as "Rowbothams."

A Rowbotham application is made in Supreme Court in cases where an accused would not normally qualify for legal aid, but cannot find a lawyer to represent them for the money they have. Named after a 1988 Ontario appeal court decision, a Rowbotham application can lead to charges being stayed unless the government comes up with funding.

Ritchie has officially withdrawn from the murder case against Pickton, but continues to represent the 53-year-old pig farmer on the quest for funding. Ritchie has said he would consider returning to the other case if enough money is made available.

Port Coquitlam provincial court judge David Stone adamantly stated Monday that the preliminary hearing will go ahead next week, regardless of the Rowbotham application and whether or not Pickton has a lawyer.

But Dohm implied that the preliminary hearing might not be able to proceed on schedule because of all the outstanding issues before his court.

"I don't like what he did," Dohm said of the firm date fixed by Stone. "I thought there might be a different way of handling it."

So far the B.C. government has offered Ritchie $150 an hour for a cap of 37.5 hours a week in a 60-day interim agreement that would see two junior lawyers paid $72 an hour. But Ritchie is seeking funding for six lawyers, with an hourly demand of $200.

Lawyer Ken Westlake testified Tuesday that if he were organizing the Pickton defence, he would need eight senior lawyers to handle complex evidence involving DNA, wiretap and dozens of witnesses.

But he echoed earlier testimony, saying that he would not take the Pickton case for the money Victoria is offering.

"I am not interested in the grief that comes with it," said Westlake, who has more than 30 years experience.

He experienced that grief 20 years ago when he was involved in a civil trial linked to child killer Clifford Olson.

"I got hate mail. I got spit on leaving the courtroom. It certainly is a consideration," Westlake said."I think lawyers that do this case will do so from their sense of public duty."

After Westlake's evidence, the media was removed from the courtroom for an in-camera session in which Crown prosecutor Michael Petrie was expected to outline the case against Pickton.

The hearing was to continue in Supreme Court today. 

 Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun

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