HALIFAX — A provincial court judge says she’ll push to hold hearings as quickly as possible on the public release of search warrants from the investigation into the recent mass shooting in Nova Scotia.
Judge Laurel Halfpenny MacQuarrie says she’s concerned courts will become very busy in early summer after pandemic restrictions are relaxed, and the justice system currently has more time to deal with the media application.
In a conference call Monday morning, MacQuarrie told Crown prosecutors and a lawyer representing a media consortium that she’s expecting the parties to provide their positions on the release of the search warrants by next Monday morning.
She granted a one-week delay in proceedings after federal Crowns representing the Canada Border Services Agency said they hadn’t had time to review the warrants.
Lawyer David Coles, representing journalists from a variety of news organizations including The Canadian Press, says he’s hoping the provincial and federal Crowns can provide unredacted portions of the search warrants by next week.
However, provincial Crown Mark Heerema says prosecutors are unlikely to provide any portions of the documents by next week, and he will be seeking dates for further court hearings.
As of Monday, four warrants have been executed and resulted in materials being seized after a gunman went on a rampage through five Nova Scotia communities on April 18 and 19, killing 22 people.
The gunman was shot and killed by police in Enfield, N.S., but investigators are still looking into how he obtained his weapons and whether he had any assistance in creating a replica RCMP vehicle or acquiring a police uniform.
Two production orders have been executed but police haven’t yet indicated if evidence was seized.
There is one more warrant open for execution until midnight Monday.
Heerema noted the investigation is in its early stages, and more warrants may be issued in the future.
However, the judge noted she wasn’t prepared at this stage to include any future warrants in her decision.
Halfpenny MacQuarrie also said she would shift the next hearings from Truro to Port Hawkesbury, N.S., where larger facilities allow for physical distancing if lawyers and others attend.
The key legal principles on when search warrants are released were formed 28 years ago in Canada with a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision, in a case launched by investigative reporter Linden MacIntyre in 1982.
The highest court ruled that once a search warrant is carried out, the warrant and supporting documents must be made public, but that an exception could be made to protect innocent parties if the search didn’t yield evidence.
It was based largely on the principle that the business of the courts should be made public, with few exceptions.
In his ruling, Justice Brian Dickson wrote, “the rule should be one of public accessibility and concomitant judicial accountability,” and public access should only be restricted “to protect social values,” including the right of innocent parties not to become caught up in police inquiries.
In a later 2005 decision, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Morris Fish further commented on search warrants, stating the administration of justice “thrives on exposure to light and withers under a cloud of secrecy.”