An Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled that the law does not prevent the court from releasing wiretap information gathered by police while investigating a gang with links to a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Justice Ian Nordheimer's written decision, delivered Tuesday, overturns a lower court decision to keep the search-warrant information under wraps.
Lawyers representing several media organizations, including The Globe and Mail, will now be able to press for the release of the 119-page document that Toronto police prepared to secure search warrants in Project Traveller, a year-long drugs and guns probe that culminated with multiple arrests in mid-June. A small portion of the document was turned over to lawyers in September, but about 100 pages of wiretap details were censored after Ontario Court Justice Philip Downes ruled section 193 of the Canadian Criminal Code prohibited disclosure.
Justice Nordheimer disagreed with the lower court, concluding section 193 does not provide a "blanket prohibition" against intercepted communication. His ruling could open the door to the public learning more about the Project Traveller case.
"This decision has very wide ramifications generally for public accountability," said lawyer Peter Jacobsen, who is representing a coalition of media outlets, including The Globe. The ruling could be appealed.
While the provincial Crown's office has been fighting the release of information in Project Traveller, the media last week received a redacted version of a 474-page package of police surveillance and interviews related to the Oct. 1 arrest of Alessandro Lisi, the mayor's friend and occasional driver.
The extraordinarily lengthy search-warrant document revealed Toronto police had been watching Mr. Lisi and Mr. Ford since May, after U.S. website Gawker and the Toronto Star reported drug dealers showed their journalists a video of the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine.
The video, which has not surfaced publicly, is now in the hands of the Toronto police, Chief Bill Blair revealed last week. It was recovered from a computer hard drive seized during the Project Traveller police raids.
Lawyers for the media are seeking to unseal more details from the Lisi search-warrant package. Justice Nordheimer's ruling could help bolster the media's case, Mr. Jacobsen said.
Mr. Lisi, who police allege threatened two accused gang members in a bid to retrieve the Ford video, has been charged with extortion. On Tuesday, Mr. Ford admitted he smoked crack cocaine some time last year.
A group of defence lawyers representing people charged in Project Traveller has requested the video be disclosed to them so they can prepare their cases. But the Crown advised the lawyers on Monday it does not yet have a copy of the video or a summary of what is in it, said defence lawyer Adam Boni.
He and other lawyers are frustrated by the slow pace of disclosure. Attorney General spokesman Brendan Crawley declined to comment, saying the issue will be addressed in court.