No publication ban on first-degree murder trial of Robert Pickton: Judge

Greg Joyce
Canadian Press

Friday, December 15, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. (CP) - There will be no sweeping publication ban on the murder trial of Robert Pickton, even though the accused serial killer could face a second trial at a later date, a judge ruled Friday.

A pile of rubble including a pickup truck sits in the middle of the Pickton farm in Coquitlam, B.C. Justice James Williams has ruled that Pickton's trial in New Westminster on six charges of first-degree murder, slated to begin in January, will be held in open court. (CP images/Chuck Stoody)

Justice James Williams made the ruling after lawyers for news organizations argued that a ban would effectively mean one of the biggest murder cases in Canadian history would be tried in "secret."

Pickton is charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of women, many of whom were sex-trade workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He faces six of those counts at a trial starting in January.

Nearly all of the long and complicated legal proceedings since Pickton was arrested almost five years ago have taken place under a publication ban.

The issue of a ban on the entire first trial arose when the court severed the six first-degree murder counts, leaving 20 to potentially be tried later.

With the first trial taking place public, it becomes a question of what effect that might have on the second trial.

Dan Burnett, representing The Canadian Press and other media organizations, said a publication ban "would be one of the most controversial bans in the history of Canadian judicial jurisprudence."

"The prospect of having the biggest murder trial in Canadian history in secret is breathtaking," Burnett said in court.

Defence lawyer Peter Ritchie told the court he would not seek a publication ban of evidence heard in the trial. He would also not waive his client's Charter rights later on.

Crown prosecutor John Ahern said the obvious Charter rights he had to "infer" were of concern are section 7 of the Charter - the right to a fair trial - and another section that says an accused has a right to be tried within a reasonable time.

Ahern said he would not apply for a publication ban, suggesting such an application should come from the defence.

When the judge asked Ritchie about his client's position on whether his rights to a fair second trial would be jeopardized by not having the first under a ban, Ritchie referred to some exhibits that might be part of both trials.

Ritchie said the defence needs "a sense of what can and can't be published in the first trial."

In the end, the judge said that since neither side had sought a publication ban, he would not impose one.

But he said the defence's concern about certain exhibits might have to be addressed - with a possible publication ban - through another application before the first trial begins.

The judge also said that other issues might arise during the first trial that the defence could seek a publication ban.

 The Canadian Press 2006



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