Documents related to police raids on buildings linked to the ongoing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford controversy must be made available to media lawyers by Aug. 27, an Ontario judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision is a small victory for lawyers representing a group of media organizations in their quest to unseal search warrants that led to the Project Traveller arrests.
Crown prosecutors had originally asked the judge to withhold the information for at least six to nine months. Lawyers representing the media organizations, meanwhile – including The Globe and Mail, the CBC and The Toronto Star – had asked for the information to be released by July 11.
The documents will only be made available to lawyers – with sensitive information redacted – in order for them to form an argument for the information to be made public.
At issue are the documents related to search warrant for the mid-June Project Traveller raids at a cluster of Dixon road apartments in Etobicoke, and whether those documents should be made public. A total of 44 people were arrested in those raids.
The Dixon apartment buildings have been the subject of intense media scrutiny after it was reported recently that an alleged video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine may have been held in one of the buildings. A number of the arrests in the raids were of individuals who have been tied to the ongoing scandal.
"In my view, the Crown's position is unjustified and unreasonable," Judge Philip Downes wrote of the argument that it would take six to nine months vet the documents and redact any confidential information.
"While I accept that evidence contained in that document may be connected to evidence found elsewhere in court documents related to this investigation, I do not accept that it could or should take in excess of six months for the Crown to properly vet that document."
Peter Jacobsen, the lawyer representing The Globe and Mail and the CBC as well as other media organizations, called the judge's decision "a very helpful development that reinforces the open court principle."
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Jacobsen - joined by a lawyer for the Toronto Star - argued that "the public has got a right to know" what led to the Project Traveller arrests. The date that the lawyers had originally asked for the documents to be made available – July 11 – is when many of the accused are set to appear in court.
"Given that he's the mayor of the largest city in Canada and this controversy's been going on for some time, surely the public's got a right to know what's in those affidavits insofar as it doesn't injure the rights of other parties," Mr. Jacobsen said Tuesday morning.
"We're not asking for the names of confidential informants. We're not asking for the number of police interrogators. We're not asking for that," Mr. Jacobsen said. "We're just asking for the general affidavits that set out why these search warrants were issued."
In response, Crown prosecutor Paul Renwick argued that in order to provide the documents requested, that all materials related to the Project Traveller would have to be reviewed.
Mr. Renwick argued that providing the documents requested – even with sensitive information redacted – could potentially place confidential sources at risk. By releasing some documents before vetting all of them, he said, could result in the Crown unwittingly revealing the identity of confidential sources.
An affidavit by Toronto Police Detective Gavin Horner offered a glimpse at the sheer volume of information that he argued would have to be reviewed. As part of Project Traveller, police obtained authorization to use two wiretaps to intercept private communications. In order to obtain those authorizations, Det. Horner said, the affidavits total more than 1,100 pages that would need to be reviewed and edited.
Documents related to more than 40 warrants and orders including dialled number recorder warrants, cellphone examination search warrants, residential search warrants and vehicle search warrants would also have to be reviewed, the affidavit stated.
Most of the accused in the Project Traveller raids have yet to receive disclosure on the evidence against them. "My issue is with timing," Mr. Renwick said Tuesday morning, adding that the information will eventually be made public. "I don't understand what the rush is."