Testimony at Pickton hearing halted

Guelph Mercury
News, Wednesday, January 15, 2003


A newspaper editor in the United States cited the differing legal climate in his country Tuesday afternoon to explain reporting on a preliminary hearing for the man accused of being Canada's worst serial killer.

But last night the situation likely became more complicated for The Seattle Times, as the Vancouver hearing was halted amid allegations media outlets had breached a court-ordered publication ban.

Peter Ritchie, the lead lawyer for accused serial killer Robert Pickton, alleged the ban had been broken by both Canadian and foreign media, although he did not cite examples.

Discussion about how to handle the alleged breaches are expected to be a central theme when the hearing resumes today.

Prior to that development, however, Alex MacLeod, managing editor The Seattle Times, was unapologetic.

"We are covered by a different constitution and different laws and our coverage of this is very consistent with the laws of this country," MacLeod said in a phone interview from his office.

"We try to find the information and report it to our readers. We're not doing this to in any way thumb our noses at the Canadian law."

Many American media outlets on Tuesday reported details of the evidence heard during the first day of Pickton's preliminary hearing. Pickton, a 53-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, has been charged with killing 15 of 61 women reported missing from East Vancouver during the past 20 years.

Among the missing is Sarah deVries of Vancouver, the daughter of Guelph's Pat deVries.

In August police informed the family that Sarah's DNA had been discovered during an ongoing investigation of Pickton's farm, but no charges have been laid in relation to her disappearance.

Pickton's preliminary hearing, to determine whether the Crown has sufficient evidence to proceed to trial in Superior Court, began Monday. Judge David Stone has imposed a publication ban on evidence during the hearing, which is expected to last up to three months.

However, a story on the Seattle Times Web site Tuesday contained information about the case covered by Judge Stone's publication ban.

In arguing last month for the hearing to be closed, defence counsel Peter Ritchie specifically expressed concern that details about the case would be revealed by American media outlets.

Stone's ban was made under Section 539 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

An annotation to the section refers to a 1983 case from New Brunswick, in which a criminal charge for violating a publication ban was brought against an American journalist who reported details of a case.

Seattle editor MacLeod told The Mercury he is "very much aware" of that case and gave careful consideration to it before sending a reporter to cover the Pickton matter.

He said the Pickton case is "very much of interest to people in the state of Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest," especially given similarities to the Green River Killer case, in which more than 40 women have been murdered in the Seattle area.

Richard Smith, a professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University's Vancouver campus, expressed doubt that information available on the Internet will make much difference to potential jurors.

"It's kind of a fiction anyway that newspapers are going to sully the landscape," he said, noting he hears information about the case every day "without any effort."

For example, Smith said, he learned some details of the case from someone who works for an ambulance service, who in turn had heard it from someone at the coroner's office.

"There are probably tens of thousands of people who have some information about the case," he said.

Barrie Zwicker, a Toronto-based writer and media critic, said there is simply a segment of the American press corps "with no intention of obeying Canadian laws."

The laws regarding publication bans, for example, "are going to be flouted and are being flouted," Zwicker said. "The cat is seriously out of the bag."

He added Stone must have known details of the case would leak out through American and foreign sources. "It's hard for me to see how anyone would not foresee it."

Wayne Leng, a close friend of Sarah deVries and the first person to note her disappearance in 1998, agreed nothing short of closing the hearing will cap the leaking of evidence.

"You're never going to get (American media) to comply with a Canadian publication ban," said the man from San Bernardino, California, where he now lives. "I don't think it's going to jeopardize the case or Mr. Pickton's defence."

Leng admitted he has mixed feelings about the preliminary hearing beginning. On one hand he is glad the case is moving forward, but at the same time he is "anxious" about hearing the evidence.

"I know there's going to be some pretty horrible evidence coming out of it," Leng said, adding he nonetheless plans to go to Port Coquitlam to hear some of it. "I feel like I just need to go there."

Pat deVries and another daughter, Maggie, both declined comment when contacted Tuesday. 

Category: Front Page; News
Uniform subject(s): Serial killings and mass murder
Story type(s): News
Edition: Final
Length: Medium, 670 words

2003 Guelph Mercury. All rights reserved.



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Updated: August 21, 2016