In unusual move, lawyer for Luka Magnotta wants public banned from hearing

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL – When Luka Magnotta returns before a judge for his preliminary hearing next week, he’ll seek to have the public banned entirely from the courtroom.

A publication ban on evidence heard at a preliminary hearing is routine, but Magnotta’s lawyer has taken the unusual step of asking that everyone be barred from the courtroom except the judge, the lawyers in the case and the court clerk.

The motion states that the request stems from an unspecified reason related to Magnotta’s personal and medical history, details of which are not disclosed in the document.

The motion was filed in Quebec Court last Thursday by Luc Leclair, Magnotta’s Toronto-based lawyer. It will be debated next Monday as Magnotta’s preliminary inquiry is set to begin in Montreal.

The lengthy hearing will be used to determine whether Magnotta stands trial. Quebec Court judge Lori-Renee Weitzman will hear the case and, if it is sent to trial, the case will be heard by a different judge in Quebec Superior Court.

Magnotta is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying and dismemberment of Chinese-born student Jun Lin last May.

He is accused of mailing body parts to different places including the Ottawa offices of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada and two Vancouver schools.

Magnotta became the target of an international manhunt after parts of Lin’s body began turning up across the country.

Magnotta, 30, also faces other charges related to Lin’s death: committing an indignity to a body; publishing obscene material; criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament; and mailing obscene and indecent material.

He has previously pleaded not guilty and chosen trial by judge and jury.

His court appearances have attracted throngs of journalists jostling for a spot in the high-security courtroom where he appeared. A 35-minute procedural hearing attracted nearly two dozen reporters, camerapeople and photographers.

A spokesman for the Crown prosecutor’s office said Monday that there wouldn’t be any comment until after the motion is debated.

Rene Verret said the Crown first wants a chance to hear the motion presented.

Magnotta’s preliminary hearing is expected to last at least two weeks and several dates could also be added in June, if necessary.

One criminal attorney who is not connected to the Magnotta case said he has never heard of such a closed-door request before.

Steven Slimovitch said the publication ban is “almost automatic” at a preliminary stage, with details heard there kept from the public until charges are dropped or a criminal trial is complete.

But Slimovitch said he had never heard of the courtroom being cleared entirely.

The burden of proof will lie on Magnotta’s legal team, he said.

“(The closed-door provision is) in the (Criminal) Code for a reason and presumably it is because it would affect the course of the inquiry,” Slimovitch said.

“The idea is that to secure a fair trial for the accused, all members of the public must be excluded.”

The provision in the Criminal Code notes that, under some circumstances, nobody except “the prosecutor, the accused and their counsel” might have access to the courtroom.

The written motion from Magnotta says that “the ends of justice will be best served by doing so.”

Several media outlets are lining up to challenge the request.

“Asking for the removal of everyone from the courtroom, that’s an exceptional measure and you have to have very exceptional grounds to be able to show that, without this, the accused would not get a fair trial,” Slimovitch said.

Leclair did not immediately return a call Monday.