Wiretaps in Project Traveller warrants should be kept secret: Judge

Toronto Police executed a series of pre-dawn raids in the city's west end, arresting dozens of people as part of a guns-and-drug case dubbed "Project Traveller". Jason Scott/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 reporters say 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.

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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.

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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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Watch: Are Project Traveller raids connected to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?

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