Media seek access to 'Project Traveller' search warrants
Toronto's City Mayor Rob Ford (centre) stands with his brother Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford as he attends a Conservative Party BBQ in Toronto on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, September 12, 2013 5:11PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 12, 2013 6:39PM EDT
TORONTO -- Media lawyers say a law prohibiting the dissemination of wiretaps doesn't apply to search warrants Toronto police used in massive gang raids that swept up several people with possible links to Mayor Rob Ford.
Dozens of search warrants were issued as part of "Project Traveller," which saw police raid homes in northwestern Toronto.
But the warrants themselves, as well as the information submitted to the court to obtain them, have been sealed.
Media outlets including The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, CBC, CTV and Postmedia are asking the courts to let them see the documents as a matter of public interest, given the possible link to the mayor.
In a hearing Thursday, the Crown said the documents contain references to wiretaps and disclosing that information is against the law.
But the media lawyers argued the documents should be released given that evidence presented in a judicial proceeding is exempt from the prohibition.
"What we're saying is when a police officer goes before the court, even if it's in camera... it's still a judicial proceeding and it requires the exemption to apply," Peter Jacobsen said outside court.
"What we're trying to do is find out what it was that the police officers said to the judge in order to get these search warrants, which may help us understand a lot about why this investigation proceeded the way it did," he said.
It might also help clear up "all the other issues" surrounding "Project Traveller," including any possible connection to Ford, he said.
The Crown maintains requesting the warrants is a judicial function, but not a judicial proceeding, and thus not covered by the exemption.
Ontario court judge Philip Downes is expected to issue a written decision on this aspect of the case Monday.
However, before any documents are released, lawyers for those accused in the raids will get a chance to request that all or part of the information be placed under a publication ban.
They are scheduled to make their case next Friday.
Media counsel were advised Thursday that there are at least 36 sealed packages, containing more than 80 warrants, far more than originally believed.
Lawyers for the media were initially told there was only one, then four, and eventually 18, Jacobsen said.
The confusion over how many documents exist only complicates the application for their release, he added.
In late May, police raided 12 addresses as part of "Project Traveller," arresting more than 40 people and seizing firearms, drugs and cash, among other things.
Earlier in May, the American website Gawker and the Toronto Star reported seeing a cellphone video showing Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
They also published a photograph of the mayor with three men, one of whom was gunned down on a city street. The other two men were arrested as part of "Project Traveller."
There have been reports that one of the homes raided by police may have held the alleged video, according to the media application to Downes.
Ford has said he does not use crack and the alleged video does not exist.