HALIFAX — Prosecutors are arguing that fully revealing the information used to obtain search warrants following the province's recent mass shooting could compromise the "massive" police investigation and identify innocent parties.
A media consortium is seeking to have a provincial court judge release blacked-out sections of the court documents submitted by the RCMP, as well as the results of the searches.
Provincial Crowns Mark Heerema and Shauna MacDonald say in a submission to the court that material sealed to protect the investigation — including the models of guns the killer used — should remain sealed for six months.
They also say in the document released Friday that material blacked out to protect the interests of innocent persons should be sealed permanently.
"The investigation is understandably massive and only in its infancy .... The media's interest in this story should not trump truth and accuracy, both of which will only be accomplished through maintaining the integrity of the investigation at this early stage," they wrote.
The Crown's legal arguments have yet to presented before the provincial court.
Some family members of the 22 victims of the April 18-19 shootings have stated publicly that they've not been told enough about what occurred in the rampage of Gabriel Wortman.
Most of the families are seeking to register a class action suit against the RCMP over their response during the shooting and arson events that went on in five communities for over 12 hours.
Advocates for gun control, along with advocates for women who've suffered domestic abuse, have called for greater public revelation of what kind of weapons were used and the details of prior violence Wortman is alleged to have committed.
The gunman was shot and killed by police in Enfield, N.S., but investigators are still looking into how he obtained his weapons and whether he had any assistance in creating a replica RCMP vehicle and acquiring a police uniform.
The Crown argues that the redactions are necessary to protect the investigation. It cites a series of recent court decisions that allowed blacking out of documents in the early stages of investigations.
"Investigations are becoming complex .... Courts acknowledge that a complex investigation takes time to fully corral," the prosecutors write.
They note that in 2012 a court in New Brunswick allowed a sealing order related to search warrants in the Dennis Oland murder case to be extended by six months. Portions of the search warrants were eventually released.
Some of the key legal principles on when search warrants can be released stem from a landmark 1982 Supreme Court of Canada decision, in a case launched by investigative reporter Linden MacIntyre.
The highest court ruled that once a search warrant is carried out, the warrant and supporting documents must be made public, but exceptions can be made, such as protecting innocent parties if the search didn't yield evidence.
In his ruling, Justice Brian Dickson wrote, "the rule should be one of public accessibility and concomitant judicial accountability,'' and public access should only be restricted "to protect social values of superordinate importance.''
However, the Crown lawyers argue one of the areas of "superordinate importance" is protection of "the innocent."
They argue that in court decisions since MacIntyre's landmark case, the courts have widened the definition of innocent parties, and that it would cover many of the witnesses used to obtain the search warrants.
The Crown lawyers argue that naming witnesses who spoke to police may connect them to the "worst mass shooter in Canada."
Federal lawyers representing the Canada Border Services Agency make similar arguments in a brief that argues their investigation into the potential smuggling of weapons that Wortman used is in its early stages.
They are also asking for materials blacked out for investigatory purposes to remain sealed for six months, and information blacked out for "protection of the innocent," to be permanently sealed.
Lawyer David Coles, representing a variety of news organizations including The Canadian Press, will be presenting the media's arguments in upcoming hearings.
During an April 24 news conference, RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said the RCMP has a responsibility to determine the actions of the gunman over the almost 13 hours of the rampage.
He said the priority was to determine the gunman's movements and whether anyone assisted him prior to the attacks or in obtaining weapons.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.