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N.S. mass shooting case: media outlets challenge redactions in search warrants


September 2, 2020
By The Canadian Press

TRURO, N.S. — A lawyer representing eight news media outlets is challenging the decisions of a Nova Scotia provincial court judge who authorized heavy redactions of RCMP search warrants used in the investigation of the mass shooting in April that claimed 22 lives.

Appearing in provincial court in Truro, N.S., David Coles submitted an application Monday for a judicial review of decisions Judge Laurel Halfpenny-MacQuarrie made last month, arguing she had overstepped her jurisdiction.

Coles’ application to Nova Scotia Supreme Court says the lower court judge went too far in authorizing permanent and temporary redactions. The application also states the media have been denied the right to argue against the redactions.

Search warrants are supposed to be made public after they have been executed, with some exceptions, but in this case the Crown has produced documents that are largely blacked out and beyond public scrutiny.

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The application for judicial review also says the judge declined to unseal information based on what Coles described as speculation unsupported by the evidence.

Federal Crown prosecutor Mark Covan argued Monday that Coles’ application should be suspended until the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia issues a decision.

Coles’ application, Covan said, is an attempt to “quash everything that has happened after July 16,” referring to the Halfpenny-MacQuarrie’s earlier decisions about the redactions and the legal process.

“It would be an enormous burden on the court and the Crown … They’re seeking to attack the very backbone of these proceedings.”

Coles argued that waiting for the Supreme Court to decide would cause an unreasonable delay, and he urged the judge not to suspend the current court process.

“If the Supreme Court decides later on that more should be released, then more will be released,” Coles said in an interview after the hearing. “It’s all stuff in the future that doesn’t undo what (the judge) has done.”

Crown attorneys Mark Heerema and Shauna MacDonald have argued that certain information — including the models of guns the killer used — should remain sealed for six months. They say the content pertaining to innocent persons should be sealed permanently.

Halfpenny-MacQuarrie has yet to decide on how long the temporary redactions will remain in place.

The outlets challenging the redactions are The Canadian Press, CBC, CTV News, Global News, The Globe and Mail, Postmedia, the Halifax Examiner and the Saltwire chain in Atlantic Canada.

Coles’ application refers to a prior release of search warrants. Halfpenny-MacQuarrie said the next batch of redacted warrants — six in all — would be released on Sept. 21.

She also confirmed Monday that further legal arguments about the redactions would be heard on Oct. 16.

Some of the victim’s relatives have complained they have not been told enough about what happened to their loved ones or how the RCMP’s actions may have played a role in their deaths. Most of the families are seeking to register a class action lawsuit against the RCMP.

The RCMP officer who filed most of the search warrants and production orders, Sgt. Angela Hawryluk, has told the court the release of key information could jeopardize the RCMP’s ongoing investigation of Gabriel Wortman’s murderous rampage on April 18-19.

The gunman, who was disguised as a Mountie and was driving a look-alike police cruiser, was fatally shot by an RCMP officer on the morning of April 19 when he stopped at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 35 kilometres north of Halifax.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2020.

The Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020