The provincial court on Spring Garden Road.

The long slog to unseal search warrant documents related to the investigation of the April 18/19 mass murders continues.

Back in April, eight media organizations, including the Halifax Examiner, hired lawyer David Coles to ask the court to unseal the documents.

The killer is himself dead, and so revealing details of the investigation won’t tip him off. And details of the murders have been publicized to basically the whole world, so can there really be anyone else at all that would be tipped off because these investigative details are released? It seems unlikely.

Consider, for example, the weapons the killer used. The RCMP has stated that he obtained some of the weapons in the United States and smuggled them into Canada illegally. OK, so you’re the arms dealer in the US; don’t you already know that you sold the weapons to the killer? How does not releasing the kind and calibre of the weapons “protect the investigation”? Answer: it doesn’t. The claim is nonsense.

And yet the RCMP and the provincial and federal Crown lawyers are delaying releasing information, requiring Coles jump through absurd procedural hoops to get even the most basic and innocuous information released. And the judge — Laurie Halfpenny MacQuarrie, who is herself a former Crown prosecutor — has agreed with the Crown every step of the way.

A couple of weeks ago, Halfpenny MacQuarrie heard from the Crown lawyers in camera — that is, in secret, without our lawyer being present — and decided that redactions of the search warrant documents would fall into three categories — Stage 1, which are permanent redactions that we can never challenge; Stage 2, which are temporary redactions, and the Crown wants to define temporary as six months; and Stage 3, which are the remaining redactions that can be challenged, albeit there’s no guarantee that she’ll agree to release them.

And so yesterday, Coles got to cross-examine RCMP Sergeant Angela Hawryluk, who signed both the redacted documents we’re trying to un-redact (the “Information to Obtain”s, or ITOs) and an affidavit explaining the purpose of the redactions.

But before that cross-examination happened, first thing in the morning yesterday, with no advance warning, the Crown announced it had suddenly un-redacted and was releasing about half of the Stage 3 redactions.

Before I get into what the newly released information is, consider this: We have been preparing to cross examine Hawryluk about this. I personally spent about six hours writing up a detailed document analyzing each of the redactions, looking at their context, and suggesting questions for Coles to ask about them. I assume other reporters did as well. And Coles, who doesn’t come cheap, had to synthesize all that material, look at the law, and come up with a strategy for cross-examining.

So when suddenly half that material is un-redacted, I can only understand it as a Crown strategy to waste the media organizations’ time and money, and to make Coles’ preparatory work useless.

And consider what that newly un-redacted information was. It was explanation for the kinds of data that police investigators were seeking to discover from the computers in the killer’s cars, GPS units in the cars, his laptop, and two cell phones. Understand, at issue were the kinds of data, not the actual data. So, like “we’re looking for GPS data,” not “the killer drove from Portland Street, stopped at McDonald’s then drove across the Macdonald Bridge…”

Here’s what I wrote to Coles in my analysis of the redactions:

Any technological savvy person in the public would know what kinds of data are collected on the computers, so why should merely the kinds of data requested be redacted (as opposed to the actual data)?

I mean, come on, we all watch cop shows on TV; we know how it works. The lab with the woman with the wild glasses takes the computers apart and plugs the drive into another computer, and then downloads all the information: the GPS info, tracing the cars’ journeys; texts and phone calls made; phones that were connecting to the cars’ computers, and so forth.

And sure enough, here’s the oh-so-secret information that was suddenly un-redacted yesterday after the Crown claimed for three and a half months that it needed to be kept secret to “protect the investigation”:

Yes, they kept that secret. As I say, any Joe Sixpack or Anita Cocktail who regularly plops down in front of the TV to watch Law & Order or CSI would’ve guessed at this, as would anyone out there in the world who conceivably might have been “tipped off” by releasing the info — I guarantee you that every person who was in the killer’s cars knew that the police would be examining the computers to see what phones connected to them. This is not rocket surgery. It’s not some super-secret spy stuff that no one knows about. It’s just plainly obvious. And yet: the RCMP and the Crowns, with the judge’s assistance, kept it secret for three and a half months.

I haven’t yet gotten into what happened through the cross-examination yesterday, mostly because it was so infuriatingly maddening. That will wait for another day, however, because despite the inanity of the proceeding, there was one bit of information that was made clearer to me, and it needs some more reporting to get the story right. So, stay tuned.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. I hope this veil of secrecy issue can be looked at as part of the inquiry, but I assume that will be outside of the inquiry’s scope. It does certainly speak to a culture that appears to avoid self reflection and accountability.

    And … rocket surgery? 🙂

  2. Veil of secrecy. One question finally gets answered and then two more questions are created. The RCMP goal is to waste media time and money without a doubt. I guess the salaries of the RCMP members in this does not matter? I do not believe this upcoming inquiry will get the information they need to make the changes required judging by how these requests are handled..
    When will the 3rd member be announced for the inquiry ?

  3. It’s quite clear that the RCMP is burying something which shows they’ve been deeply incompetent somehow.

    I never thought I’d say this, but it’s time for the RCMP to stop doing local/contract policing, and possibly even be disbanded.

  4. Is this article about RCMP secrecy or about the author’s indignation at wasted time spent preparing for Court?

    1. Sounds a bit like both. It is a separate but related issue how the “authorities” use the FOIPOP process to make poorly funded news organizations pay for what should be public information. Almost every time information does get released, it only demonstrates that the people withholding information were doing it for no other reason than to mislead the public or prevent the media from simply doing their job. And then they whine about how adversarial the reporting is. So, yeah, as you say I think there is some indignation here. But I would add the word “righteous” before it.

    2. Both, wouldn’t it be? It’s like paying big bucks to scrub the floor, and the culprit who made the dirty footprints wipes it with a dirty rag. No more footprints, but the floor ain’t clean.