A trial over the alleged failings of the RCMP’s witness protection program may not end up being a secret after all.
In a hearing late Thursday morning, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, Martel Popescul, decided not to order a blanket publication ban in a lawsuit against the Department of Justice Canada.
The lawsuit is being brought by Noel Harder, who was in the witness protection program after being a witness in Project Forsetti — the largest organized crime investigation in Saskatchewan’s history.
The suit alleges broken promises and failings in the program, according to Harder’s lawyer, Tony Merchant.
The federal government had asked for documents and hearings in the lawsuit to be put under a publication ban.
The lawyer representing the attorney general, Chris Bernier, argued in court that details which could come out about the program could put personnel and handlers in jeopardy, as well as the program itself.
Bernier said information such as the identities of personnel, how payments are made, information is sent and recorded, and the location of safe houses could come out in the case.
Bernier added that the information needs to be protected because there are “nefarious criminal elements” out there who could use it.
The lawyer was only about halfway through his arguments, however, when Popescul began asking questions, bringing up problems, and discussing the matter. Popescul eventually made a decision without hearing arguments against the ban from Merchant or another lawyer representing media companies: CBC, CTV, and PostMedia.
Popescul said he didn’t feel comfortable issuing a blanket ban across the case, mentioning the “open court principle” several times.
The Justice ruled the court file will be open to the public and appointed himself as case management judge for the suit. The federal government will need to apply for, and argue, any requests for publication bans.
The next step in the case is for the federal government to file its statement of defence, parts of which Bernier seemed to indicate in court it would want to be under a ban.
Popescul ended the hearing by saying he expects he’ll be seeing a lot of the lawyers involved.