Evidence may have a 'devastating effect' if made public: Pickton lawyer

May 26, 2005

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. (CP) - In arguing for a sweeping publication ban on pre-trial submissions in the Robert Pickton serial murder case, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said some "evidence may never be in front of the jury and that may have a devastating effect if it gets out."

Besides the normal statutory bans on reporting potentially prejudicial evidence from pre-trial motions, Ritchie wants B.C. Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Barrow to ensure nothing said in the hearing leaves the courtroom.

"The first motion that you're going to hear . . . is going to involve allegations that arise from the police investigation concerning potential involvement of others in murders," Ritchie told Barrow.

"We are pursuing potential avenues of defences for our client and if others are affected by that, it's my submission (that) that should be a concern for the Crown."

Ritchie said Barrow should not only bar publication via traditional print and broadcast media and the Internet, but the judge should also forbid anyone attending the court - reporters or spectators - to reveal what they heard there to anyone else.

Lead prosecutor Mike Petrie asked for a ban on Ritchie's comments, saying potential jurors could be tainted by the information Ritchie may present in pre-trial motions.

"It can taint a jury just as much if they believe that there is information out there suggesting that other people committed these murders," Petrie said.

Hearings in the case will resume on Wednesday when Barrow is expected to rule on Petrie's request for a ban.

Media lawyers addressing Barrow on Thursday, however, said a sweeping publication ban on pre-trial hearings in the case would be unworkable and an attack on free speech.

But media lawyer Robert Anderson, representing the Vancouver Sun and Province, said publication bans that were put in place during a preliminary hearing have worked and that Ritchie's proposal goes too far.

"It's unworkable, it's unenforceable, it's nuts, with respect, and it's of no efficiency," he told Barrow.

Outside court, he said the public has a right to know how the justice system has handled the case.

"There's no question the nature of this investigation is an issue of incredible public importance," he said.

"It's not just Mr. Pickton who's on trial, although that's certainly the most important aspect, but in many respects the Canadian justice system, the police investigation, the Crown's laying of the charges and, ultimately, the judge's rulings are being watched."

Lawyer Michael Skene, acting on behalf of CTV, said if Barrow decided to prohibit people from discussing what they heard in court, it would represent an unprecedented restriction on freedom of speech.

"If Mr. Pickton is granted the order he is seeking, it sets a very bad precedent," he said outside the courthouse. "It says that people that attend the court when they leave it aren't free to talk to other people about what they've seen or heard."

Ritchie conceded to the judge that the existing publication ban has largely worked.

"I know of no case where there has been a breach or an alleged breach .?.?. which is significant," he added.

Pickton, 55, accused of being Canada's worst serial killer, faces 27 counts of first-degree murder in the disappearance of over two dozen of more than 60 women, mainly drug-addicted sex-trade workers, from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside over several years.

A jury has not been selected yet, nor has Pickton even elected whether to be tried by a jury or by Barrow alone.

In making his application on Wednesday, after Pickton was charged with 12 new counts of first-degree murder, Ritchie suggested Barrow could hold the entire pre-trial hearing "in camera," to ensure nothing finds its way outside the court.

"The safest way to proceed to protect our client's interest, we submit, would be to close the court," he said.

Ritchie said Canadian journalists by and large abide by reporting restrictions, although some outlets steered Canadians to foreign websites during the preliminary hearing.

Lead prosecutor Mike Petrie has largely supported the application made by the defence for a stringent publication ban.

Pickton has been in custody since his arrest Feb. 7, 2002, when police descended on his farm in nearby Port Coquitlam and other property he and his family owned.

Dozens of investigators, aided by forensic anthropologists, took apart every building on the pig farm and sifted through hundreds of tonnes of dirt looking for evidence.

Also on Thursday, the Missing Women's Task Force removed the name of Tammy Heather Fairbairn from the list of missing women.

She was reported missing to the Vancouver Police Department in 2004 by a family member after she lost contact with them in 1998.

Fairbairn has been located in central Canada.

Fairbairn and seven other women were added to the list in October 2004 in the hopes that focusing the public's attention on their photographs would produce leads for investigators.

The number of missing women being investigated by the Missing Women Task Force now stands at 68.

Canadian Press



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016