As every Canadian with an internet connection knows by now, Toronto mayor Rob Ford has had an eventful summer. Since mid-May Ford has been dealing with accusations that he has smoked crack and that his brother, city councillor Doug, was a teenaged drug kingpin in Etobicoke, among other things.
The Fords have denied the allegations even as they’ve piled up throughout the summer, and there’s been no concrete proof of anything yet. A few reporters saw a video they say showed Ford smoking crack, there’s that photo and anonymous sources have shared their stories with reporters, but nothing conclusively proving that Ford has a past or current drug problem has surfaced so far.
That may be about to change.
A major police investigation into an alleged gun-running, pot and cocaine-trafficking gang, dubbed Project Traveller, may show some connections between Ford and the gang in question. Unsurprisingly, media outlets including CBC and the Toronto Star are keen to see if that is the case, and to report on their findings. Also unsurprisingly, neither the Crown nor the defendants want much information made public.
Eight media organizations applied in July to have a police affidavit unsealed that was used to obtain a warrant to search several homes. Since then those outlets have learned there were actually “more than 80 warrants, based on dozens of police affidavits contained in 36 separately sealed packages.”
In response to the media’s requests,
Justice Phillip A. Downes in July ordered the Crown prosecutor in the Project Traveller case to return to court no later than Sept. 12 with proposed redactions, blacking out portions of the police material in order to allow at least a partial release to the public.
The Crown did indeed provide documents with proposed redactions to media lawyers — reporters aren’t yet allowed access to the documents. They handed over 119 pages of documents, and with only 110 pages redacted.
Despite receiving nearly an entire tenth of the requested information, lawyers for the media outlets were unsatisfied with the Crown’s efforts. Toronto Star lawyer Ryder Gilliland claimed that the necessity of redacting 110 of 119 pages was “completely implausible,” and disagreed with the Crown’s contention that any and all information related to wiretaps needed to be kept from the public.
The Crown’s inability to work with media to provide information that is clearly of interest to the public is distressing, but it is not at all uncommon. People and institutions accustomed to power don’t enjoy having to share that power, even if it is in the form of information that would serve the public interest.
In another stunning example of this same behaviour, the RCMP have all but stopped responding to access to information requests. Law enforcement in general and police in particular are often closed off to outside scrutiny — the “thin blue line” is a cliché for a reason — and Canadian officers are certainly no exception.
There is a group of people who stand to lose something very significant if the wrong information is publicised, though: the defendants arrested as part of Project Traveller. Lawyers for seven of the arrestees demanded that they, too, be allowed to participate in the process of reviewing and redacting information before it is made available to the media.
“They argue sensitive police affidavits used to get search warrants should not be released to the public for fear the details will be published, and could taint potential jurors at a trial.”
It is vitally important to safeguard people’s right to a fair trial. It is also important that the public find out sooner rather than later if Toronto’s mayor, a fairly traditional anti-crime conservative who also opposes progressive drug treatment options like safe-injection sites, is affiliated with violent gun- and drug-trafficking criminals. Hopefully both of these conditions can be met in a timely manner.
[CBC] [image via West Annex News/Flickr]