Ruling gives media lawyers access to Project Traveller search warrants
A person is taken into custody during Project Traveller raids in Toronto on Thursday, June 13, 2013. (DAVE THOMAS/Toronto Sun)
An Ontario judge has ordered the Crown speed up the release of search warrants used during a massive guns and drug bust by police agencies in Toronto, the GTA and Windsor.
Several media outlets including the Toronto Sun have been seeking to unseal the Project Traveller warrants, which may have probed potential ties between Mayor Rob Ford and criminals.
The Ontario Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that a blacked-out version of the warrants be issued to media lawyers by Aug. 27 as a first-step toward release of the documents.
“I am sympathetic to the difficulty faced by the media and the public in obtaining access to court documents that are not the subject of any order restricting access,” Justice Phillip Downes said in his decision.
“When there is no such order, and where a warrant has been executed and material seized, I do not understand why there should be any resistance to providing the material sought by the media. But I am not persuaded it is within the scope of my authority on this application to make any blanket order with respect to how court offices should respond to requests from the media or the public for access to court documents.”
The Crown was told the blacked-out version of the warrants needs to be produced so media outlets can make a case why the warrants be made public.
Ford became embroiled in the Project Traveller story after reports suggested a video exists that shows the mayor smoking what appears to be crack cocaine.
Ford has denied the allegation and the existence of the video.
He has also appeared in a picture with three men — one who was murdered and two others rounded up in Project Traveller. The year-long investigation by police culminated in more than 40 people being arrested and the seizure of guns and drugs.
When the matter returns to court in August, lawyers will argue over which parts of the warrants should be made public.
“There are significant issues at stake here,” said Toronto Sun editor-in-chief James Wallace. “They include legitimate public interest surrounding search warrants that potentially could shed light on crack cocaine allegations made against Mayor Rob Ford.”
“Meanwhile, the principle of an open and transparent court is a critically important part of the democratic freedom that Canadians enjoy and one that must be protected,” Wallace said.