Pickton judge issues warning to reporters

'If this doesn't sink in, if these problems persist, then we'll start restricting access,' Judge Stone says: Publication ban

Kim Bolan
The Vancouver Sun

Thursday, January 16, 2003

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. - A provincial court judge presiding over the preliminary hearing of accused serial killer Robert Pickton threatened to have individual journalists barred from the courtroom if they continue to violate a ban on publication in the murder case.

CREDIT: Chuck Stoody, The Canadian Press.

A sheriff yesterday posts a judge's order on the courtroom door in Port Coquitlam, B.C., spelling out the terms of the publication ban.

Judge David Stone also noted that breaching a ban on publication could result in a criminal conviction and two years in jail.

"I'm not excluding anybody from the courtroom but the parties have been put on notice," Judge Stone warned. "If this doesn't sink in, if these problems persist, then we'll start restricting access."

The judge also ordered that the original ban on publication or broadcast of evidence or submissions and rulings related to evidence be expanded to specifically include reproduction on the Internet.

The order also specifically refers to the punishment for disobeying it, stating that anyone found guilty of the offence is "liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years."

Judge Stone's order was immediately printed and posted in several places around the courthouse by sheriffs before the preliminary hearing was allowed to continue.


A massive police team is searching Robert Pickton's pig farm.

However, Judge Stone stopped short of banning U.S. media outlets, as Mr. Pickton's defence team had requested.

"There is a danger banning classes of individuals," Judge Stone said, adding that responsible U.S. journalists had not breached the ban. "They could be unfairly singled out."

Alleged breaches of the ban were raised in court yesterday by both Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie and Peter Ritchie, Mr. Pickton's lawyer.

Mr. Petrie said he believed there were three categories of news reports that caused concern for both sides in the case.

Some U.S. news outlets published or broadcast specific details of the evidence presented in court this week, which were then available on several Internet Web sites accessible in Canada.

As well, some Canadian news organizations described the type of evidence and quoted reaction to that evidence though they did not publish or broadcast specific details.

The third area of concern related to Canadian or foreign news reports on the hearing that named the sites or publications that were breaching the ban, therefore providing "a roadmap to locations on the Internet," Mr. Petrie said.

He said police are investigating the alleged breaches for possible prosecution.

Both he and Mr. Ritchie specifically named three individuals --including two U.S. reporters who were not in court yesterday and Canadian freelancer Jeremy Hainsworth, who has been covering the hearing for the New York-based The Associated Press.

Judge Stone asked if any of the three named individuals were in the courtroom and only Mr. Hainsworth stood up.

Mr. Ritchie agreed with most of what Mr. Petrie said, but requested the exclusion of the three individuals effective immediately.

And he also wanted families of Mr. Pickton's alleged victims to be put on notice that they cannot talk to reporters about what they are hearing in court.

"We ought to do as much as possible right now to nip this problem in the bud," Mr. Ritchie said.

Mr. Pickton, a 53-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, is facing 15 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of women who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He has been in custody since February, when investigators began a massive search of his farm and a nearby property.

The preliminary hearing is expected to last at least six months. Both defence lawyers and prosecutors have said they want the ban respected to guarantee Mr. Pickton's right to a fair trial and access to an unbiased jury pool.

While several media lawyers were in court yesterday, they were not given an opportunity to address the court.

Outside, lawyer David Sutherland, who is representing several U.S. media outlets including The Associated Press, said he could not comment on how his clients would now deal with coverage of the Pickton case.

"I am not authorized to tell you how Americans are going to report," he said, adding that he is concerned about the police investigations.

"You are always concerned when any of your clients may be subject to police investigation. I do not believe any of my clients have committed any offence."

Dave Tomlin, assistant to The Associated Press president, said the international news service took steps to comply with the publication ban. AP stories on the hearing were not transmitted in Canada, and carried a warning that they contained information prohibited under the publication ban.

 Copyright  2003 National Post



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