Wiretaps in Project Traveller warrants should be kept secret: Judge

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Anna Mehler Paperny – Global News

Warrants with wiretaps can be kept from the public, an Ontario judge has ruled.

That means a slew of search warrants connected to Toronto Police’s Project Traveller raids will be kept redacted for now, despite efforts from several media organizations – Global News included – to have them released.

Police arrested dozens of people in a series of pre-dawn raids in Etobicoke and elsewhere in June as part of a guns and drugs case dubbed Project Traveller.

One of the raids’ focal points was 320 Dixon Avenue – the same west-end apartment building at which reporterssay they watched a video of someone who looked like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine.

The fourth-floor apartment of Mohamed Siad, the man who Toronto Star reporters say showed them the video, is included among the addresses in the search warrant.

Global News has not seen the video in question and cannot attest to its authenticity. Ford has denied the allegation and said he “cannot comment on a video [he has] never seen or does not exist.”

Read more: Project Traveller raids

For months, journalists have been attempting to access 80-odd search warrants associated with the raids – but they needed exact dates and addresses just to request them.

Monday’s decision came down to one question: Is the information in a search warrant evidence in a proceeding, or part of an investigation?

The Crown argued that information in the warrants obtained by wiretap was part of a criminal investigation and had to be kept secret.

Media organizations, for their part, argued that because the content of those police intercepts had to be presented before a judge in order to get the warrant, they count as evidence presented in a proceeding and should be made public.

Ultimately, the Crown’s view won out.

“Our submission was, how could it not be a proceeding? It’s in front of a judge who makes a discretionary decision, and based on sworn evidence,”  said lawyer Peter Jacobsen, who represents several of the media organizations.

“But the judge saw it another way.”

Whereas information tendered at a bail hearing would be considered evidence in a criminal proceeding, Justice Phillip Downes wrote in his Sept. 16 decision, information presented to a judge by an officer seeking a search warrant would not.

“The disclosure of the intercepts to the public at this stage would be a criminal offence,” he wrote. “Countervailing interests of access and scrutiny cannot outweigh the statutory prohibition and consequently the application [of the media] must fail.”

The ruling could have ramifications beyond this individual case: It isn’t unusual for police officers’ Information to Obtain a warrant to include some form of wiretap or intercepted communication.

In the meantime, Jacobsen said, he’s awaiting word from his clients on whether to appeal.

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