TORONTO – A battle over access to sealed search warrants of homes associated with a video purportedly showing Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine was put to an Ontario judge Tuesday.
Media outlets want the courts to let them see the warrants as a matter of “great public interest” given the possible link to the mayor.
At the very least, the media argued they should be given the materials in confidence so they can make more informed arguments as to why the documents should be made public but the Crown said it needs six months to do that.
Lawyer Peter Jacobsen, who is acting for the media outlets including The Canadian Press, the Star, the Globe and Mail, CBC, CTV and Postmedia, said Ontario court judge Philip Downes was expected to issue a ruling later Tuesday that would provide guidance to the parties.
“This would not be the release of information to the media but rather to us — the counsel — so we can make informed arguments about whether or not the material ought to be made available to the public,” Jacobsen said.
The Crown is arguing that it needs time to examine many other documents related to “Project Traveller” before making a decision on releasing the affidavits in support of the search warrants.
“That’s a little over the top,” Jacobsen said.
“All we’re talking about right now is the media getting access for the purposes of making arguments.”
In late May, police raided 12 addresses in northwestern Toronto as part of “Project Traveller,” an investigation into gang activity. Police arrested more than 40 people and, among other things, seized firearms, drugs and cash during the raids.
“There are reports that the residential complex along Dixon Road at the heart of the raids includes a location where the alleged video depicting Mayor Ford may have been kept,” the media application states.
“This matter is of great public interest as it may relate to allegations that the mayor of Toronto has been associated with members of a criminal organization and was videotaped by them using crack cocaine.”
Earlier in May, the American website Gawker and the Toronto Star reported seeing a cellphone video apparently taken by a drug dealer 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.”
Ford has said he does not use crack and is not a crack addict. He has also said the alleged video does not exist.
The Star later reported that Ford had told senior aides he knew where the video was. The alleged video has never surfaced, even though Gawker raised $200,000 to try to buy it.
Last month, CTV News reported police apparently had heard of the alleged video weeks before the Gawker and Star reports.
Jacobsen said it would likely be September before any documents might be released.
“The Crown is making it so procedurally difficult so we keep having to go back to court,” Jacobsen said.