U.S. newspaper will defy ban in Pickton case

Buffalo media ignored similar order in Homolka trial

Ian Bailey
National Post

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

VANCOUVER - At least one major U.S. media outlet says it will defy any court ban on publishing details of the preliminary hearing of Robert Pickton, accused of murdering 11 women in a case that has drawn international attention.

The Province

Police sift through soil at a Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm co-owned by Robert Pickton, 52, accused of murdering 11 women. U.S. media may not obey a ban on publication of Pickton's preliminary hearing in November.

Details of the allegations against the 52-year-old pig farmer from suburban Port Coquitlam, B.C., will be disclosed during a hearing set for Nov. 4. But the media will be barred from publishing those details as is routine in preliminary hearings.

A spokesman for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the oldest morning newspaper in Washington State, said yesterday stories would be run in the paper and on its Web site regardless of any Canadian ban.

"I don't see how it could possibly cover us," James Wright, the newspaper's assistant metro editor, said yesterday of a ban on publication.

"They could bar us from the court. They could arrest our reporter before he or she got back across the border. They could torture our reporter."

The matter would be treated like any international story, Mr. Wright said. "We would treat this the same way we would if we were covering a case in Jakarta. We wouldn't let the local government determine what we write at home."

The situation recalls disputes in Ontario during the early 1990s regarding proceedings against Paul Bernardo -- who was eventually convicted of murder in the deaths of schoolgirls Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy -- and Bernardo's wife, Karla Homolka, who was convicted of manslaughter.

Newspapers and TV stations in Buffalo, just across the Canada-U.S. border, defied Canadian court orders to publish and broadcast prohibited details of the proceedings.

The presiding judge eventually banned U.S. reporters from proceedings involving the manslaughter trial of Homolka. Mr. Justice Francis Kovacs was concerned details of the Homolka trial would damage the chance of finding impartial jurors for Bernardo's trial.

In Vancouver, a spokesman for Supreme Court of British Columbia judges said yesterday there was nothing to do in the Pickton case but hope U.S. reporters respect Canada's laws. "The fact is that Canada does not exercise sovereignty over the United States," Lloyd McKenzie said.

"All that we can hope for is that the American media would respect our laws, and respect our laws for the reason the ban on publication is imposed, which is try to assure there will be a fair trial."

Mr. McKenzie noted the preliminary hearing is not a trial, but rather a test of the Crown case to determine whether a jury, properly instructed, could find the accused guilty.

The media, like other members of the public, are allowed to attend the preliminary hearing. Under the Criminal Code, there are bans on publishing details of such hearings.

Mr. Pickton has become the focus of a joint RCMP-Vancouver Police investigation into the disappearance of 63 women from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver since the mid-1980s.

Pat Costello, executive news director of Seattle-based King TV, said his newsroom has not decided whether to cover the hearing, but it would probably respect the ban.

"My inclination would be to not break the ban but I would have to give that some thought," he said. "I don't want to jeopardize the case for either side so I would be very cautious."

A spokesman for KIRO-TV in Seattle said the station is aware of the preliminary hearing and is planning to cover it, but has not decided how to deal with the publication ban.

Representatives of The Seattle Times were not available for comment.

 Copyright  2002 National Post

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