MONCTON, N.B. – A judge in New Brunswick ordered the release Friday of all exhibits entered into evidence at the sentencing hearing of Justin Bourque in the killing of three Mounties in Moncton.
News media organizations including The Canadian Press asked for access to exhibits used to sentence Bourque, who pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the June 4 shooting rampage.
The Crown opposed the release of the exhibits, arguing families of the RCMP officers shot by Bourque as well as others in Moncton would be traumatized if some exhibits entered as evidence at his sentencing hearing were released to the public.
Crown attorney Cameron Gunn could not immediately be reached for comment.
Gunn told the court he supports an open court system and was not against the release of all exhibits. But Gunn opposed some evidence being made public, including photos of the injured Mounties, radio transmissions of some of the last messages from the officers who were killed and a videotaped interview Bourque gave to police after his arrest.
David Lutz, Bourque’s defence lawyer, also opposed the release of the exhibits. He declined comment on the judgment Friday.
The judgment was released as the courts were closing on Friday, therefore the exhibits were not immediately available.
In his ruling, Chief Justice David Smith of the Court of Queen’s Bench said the Supreme Court of Canada has “placed a heavy onus” on applicants who seek discretionary publication bans to prove they are necessary to prevent a serious risk to the administration of justice.
Evidence presented by the Crown and the defence was insufficient to prevent the release of the 19 exhibits used at the sentencing hearing in October, he said.
“Canadian courts, as a general rule, are open and transparent,” wrote Smith, whose judgment is dated on Thursday. “The open court principle is important in that it allows the public to go behind court decisions to see what further determined or influenced its decision; in other words, why the court decided what it did.”
The Crown presented the court with affidavits from a psychologist and an RCMP officer who has spoken with the wives of the three slain officers. The affidavits said releasing all the exhibits to the media would not be in the best interests of the families of the victims.
But Smith said the affidavits presented by the Crown were hearsay and did not specify who would be damaged by releasing the evidence.
“There is no question that the release of all the exhibits may exacerbate some psychological damage on individuals caused by these terrible crimes but these are personal interests,” Smith wrote.
Lutz told the court he was also concerned about his client’s police interview having a permanent presence online if it were released.
Smith said the video Bourque gave to police was done willingly and he knew it was being recorded.
“There is no evidence submitted by the Crown or counsel for the defence which would demonstrate that it is in the interest of the administration of justice to ban the video of the offender’s confession or to ban the exhibits listed,” he wrote.
David Coles, the lawyer representing the media, argued in court that the public has a right to see and hear the evidence used to sentence Bourque to life in prison without parole eligibility for 75 years — the harshest sentence since the last state-sanctioned execution in 1962.
Coles said Friday that the decision by Smith “reaffirms the critical importance of both the open court principle and … recognition of the fact that not everybody can attend court to see exhibits and evidence.”
“It recognizes that meaningful access means that they have to be copied so the person in Winnipeg or the person in Calgary can, through the media, themselves see and hear exhibit evidence and enable them to evaluate the propriety of the ultimate (court) decision,” he added.
Other news organizations requesting access to the exhibits were the CBC, CTV News, Global News, the Globe and Mail and Brunswick News.
Bourque killed constables Dave Ross, 32, Fabrice Gevaudan, 45, and Doug Larche, 40. Constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were also injured in the shootings.