Media outlets wait for August court decision on Coutts, Alta. warrant details

Demonstrators protesting vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions gather as part of a truck convoy blocking the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing near Coutts, Alta.,on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

A decision on whether or not media outlets can obtain and publish information in a redacted version of four Coutts, Alta., blockade search warrants is scheduled for Aug. 26.

Thirteen people were arrested and charged with various weapons and mischief offences after an RCMP raid revealed a cache of weapons, ammunition and body armour near the Coutts border blockade site on Feb. 14. Christopher Lysak, Anthony Olienick, Jerry Mitchell Morin and Chris Carbert are also each charged with conspiracy to commit murder against RCMP officers.

Five Canadian media outlets — CBC, Global News, CTV, the Globe and Mail, and Postmedia — as well as the New York Times were represented in court on Tuesday in their bid to have the information that led to the charges against Lysak, Olienick, Morin and Carbert unsealed.

Read more: Setting of trial dates for 4 men accused in Coutts blockade delayed until July 11

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Tess Layton, a lawyer for the media outlets, told a Lethbridge court it is important that the administration of justice is open and transparent, saying the evidence used to obtain the warrants should be made available to the public.

The media must be able to challenge any restriction of freedom of expression rights and there is no evidence this will pose a serious risk to the ongoing investigation or the trial, Layton said.

Click to play video: 'Weapons and ammunition seized at border blockade in Coutts, Alberta' Weapons and ammunition seized at border blockade in Coutts, Alberta
Weapons and ammunition seized at border blockade in Coutts, Alberta – Feb 14, 2022

Lawyers for the accused, however, said the unsealing of the documents will compromise the right to a fair trial for the accused.

Lawyer Alias Amelia Sanders said the publication of the search warrants puts a one-sided case before the public and poses a serious risk to the proper administration of justice. Sanders is also seeking a publication ban on the information contained in the search warrants but an application for the ban was not brought to the judge on Tuesday.

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Read more: Bail denied for protester charged in southern Alberta border blockade

Joanne Person, one of the accused who is representing herself, raised concerns about potential negative consequences if the documents are unsealed. Person argued that a publication ban will ensure that the judge and jury will not be “tainted” with “media exploitation” before a trial takes place.

Person also said she was unable to look at the documents, saying she was barred from doing so by the courthouse for not being a lawyer.

Crown prosecutor Steve Johnston raised concerns about the New York Times’ application because it is a U.S.-based publication, saying a workaround needs to be in place to make sure the newspaper doesn’t violate the publication ban.

Johnston also said there are many search warrants and documents the Crown isn’t aware of, referring to a large cache of evidence related to the case.

Read more: Man charged with conspiracy to commit murder at Alberta border going directly to trial

Johnston also cautioned Person to be careful with her words because anything she says in court can be used against her. Earlier in the hearing, Person said she provided Coutts border protesters with a place to shower and do laundry.

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The judge said the case requires a high level of scrutiny, especially regarding Lysak’s, Olienick’s, Morin’s and Carbert’s warrants. Copies of the redacted warrants will be provided to all lawyers and to Person for review but the information cannot be published.

A line-by-line review of the warrants to determine what will be redacted is scheduled for Oct. 11.

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