Ashley Richards

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Canadian Trial Lawyer Looks to Gag Everyone, Even Bloggers

May 30th, 2005 Posted in Madness

Peter Ritchie, defense lawyer for Robert Pickton, has asked the Crown to prohibit any court spectators from talking about what they see and hear at the trial-not just reporters. If you are not aware of the Pickton trial, Robert Pickton is accused of killing 29 women who were prostitutes on the roughest streets of Vancouver, Canada. Court TV has an excellent summary of the Pickton case that explains why this trial is so important to so many families, and not just the families of the women he is accused of killing.

So what does this trial have to do with blogging you might ask? Well I’m guessing that Mr. Ritchie is asking for this unusually strict request because foreign (American) bloggers will be hard to keep quiet. A fact that has recently been highlighted in the Adscam trial. You see, in Canada you can have a complete media blackout on courtroom proceedings during a criminal trial; we’ll have none of the Michael Jackson brew-ha-ha reenactment. But it’s hard to stop a courtroom spectator from talking to a friend across the border, who then happens to post it on his blog. Who do you go after at that point? The spectator? He might not have known his friend was going to blog about it? The blogger? He was not in the courtroom, his servers are in the US and so is he – a conundrum indeed.

This situation raises a good question: What happens in a society that traditionally was able to uphold laws because only a select few had the capabilities of breaking those laws? We’ve seen something similar with copyright laws. Media today is owned by a handful of corporations. It is harder for one of their reporters to violate a gag order since head office doesn’t want to deal with the negative pr and legal headaches that go with it. If an individual who is not part of the traditional media hierarchy violates a gag order, there isn’t a managing editor or a team of lawyers ganging up against him and prohibiting the publishing of his report. Now add international borders into the mix. If a company wants to continue having their reporters let into Canada, they’re not going to violate any Canadian gag laws. If a blogger is afraid he’ll get arrested the moment he steps into Canada, then he just won’t ever go there;It’s up to the individual. Big difference, right?

So how do you control what people do when you no longer can enforce the laws? You don’t. You control the flow of information at the source. Ah, just like we’re seeing the music companies trying to do. And that’s what Mr. Ritchie is asking the Crown to do. The request is not completely unprecedented in Canada.

I have to say that I have a tainted opinion of this case. I was living in Vancouver when charges were first laid against him, and searched on the web to see just how hard it was to find the evidence that was presented. (Because I’m not a citizen there’s no chance of me being called to sit on the jury.) It took some digging, and I was able to find one article that talked about what was presented. And because of what I read, I have an opinion that, for me, will be hard to change. So imagine if your entire jury pool has an opinion already formed. The defendant probably won’t get the fairest trial.

Why should we care if people find out what’s being presented? You say if they have evidence that he’s probably guilty? Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. If the evidence becomes public, the jury pool is tainted. And what happens if he is guilty, and because information was leaked it gives the defense grounds for a mistrial? You get a sticky situation where you have a serial killer set free. Not a real win for any lawyer. I guess Mr. Ritchie doesn’t want to win on a flimsy technicality, and rightly so. However, if you think everyone can easily hold divergent thoughts in their minds at the same time, you have more confidence in the human race than I do.