CBC and The Walrus Foundation v HMQ et al 2017 12 04


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In an application under 487.3 of the Criminal Code, the Ontario Court of Justice ordered seven ITOs in respect of a murder investigation to be almost completely unsealed, rejecting the Crown (and respondent’s) argument that broad sealing orders should be continued in order to preserve fair trial rights, protect innocent persons or avoid compromising an ongoing investigation.

Decision Summary

This was an application under s. 487.3(4) of the Criminal Code for an order lifting sealing orders made almost 20 years ago.

In November 1998 a police investigation began into the disappearance of four seniors, including Joan Lawrence, in the Huntsville area. At the time the Laans owned several properties in the area which housed elderly persons. The four missing seniors resided on the Laan properties.

Ultimately, the police suspected that Ms. Lawrence had been murdered and seven search warrants were obtained in 1998 and 1999, with the details contained in each ITO building on the previous one as more information was obtained. The later ITOs identified David Laan and Ron Allen (the uncle of the Laans) as having murdered Joan Lawrence.

On an application pursuant to s. 487.3(4) to unseal the ITOs, the party seeking to uphold the sealing order has the onus of proving that this continued limitation on freedom of expression and freedom of the press is justified, in accordance with the Dagenais/Mentuck test.

After applying the Dagenais/Mentuck test to this case, Justice Applegate concluded that:

The Crown and the respondents have failed to meet the Dagenais/Mentuck test with respect to keeping the redacted information sealed. Such an order is not required to prevent a serious risk to the administration of justice. In addition, the negative impact on the public's right to know, the freedom of the press and the open court principle greatly exceeds any beneficial effects of maintaining the sealing orders.

The exceptions to the order were that personal identifiers and other specific information were to remain sealed.


CBC and The Walrus Foundation v HMQ et al 2017 12 04

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