Canadian ban on stories about murder case sparks interest in papers from across border
CANADA — A Canadian judge’s order banning publication of information about the murders of two teen-age girls in Ontario is sparking more interest in the case and questions about freedom of the press in Canada.
Paul Teale and his wife, Karla Homolka, were charged with kidnapping, torturing and then killing the girls. Ontario judge Francis Kovacs of the General Division, in St. Catharines, issued an order in July, before Homolka’s trial, that barred the public and foreign reporters from his courtroom to prevent pretrial publicity from biasing potential jurors. According to the Associated Press, the ban will remain in effect until Teale’s trial, which may not take place before 1995.
Beginning in July, the press was not allowed to publish details about what is assumed to be a plea bargain in which Karla Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The United States press, unfettered by Kovacs’s order, published detailed accounts of the murders, which has resulted in confiscations of newspapers at the border. The Washington Post ran a story November 23 that was picked up by several newspapers published near the Canadian border including the Detroit Free Press and the Buffalo News. The Post reported that patrols on the Peace Bridge, which spans the border at Niagara Falls, have stopped shipments of the Buffalo News and the New York Times.
The New York Times reported that Canadians were “bootlegging” copies of the Buffalo Evening News that carried the Post story. Canadians were permitted to bring in one copy of the paper, but extra copies were confiscated.
Canadian newspaper distributors have refused to sell papers carrying the story. “It’ll be suicide to sell it,” Tim Quinn of Lake Ontario Distributors told the AP.
Ian Donaldson, general news editor of The Canadian Press told the AP, “Had this ban not been in place, the trial would have been heard, there would have been a lot of publicity at the time and that would have been the end of it until the next trial. It has grown to proportions nobody would have expected.”
Some journalists are calling for a ban on the ban. “The ban is based on the insulting assumption that the public is a pack of morons who would be irretrievably tainted should they know certain facts,” Jim Coyle of the Ottawa Citizen told Time magazine.
Major Canadian news organizations, reports the AP, including the Toronto Star, the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun and the Canadian Broadcasting Co. have appealed the order, and argument before the Ontario Court of Appeal is set for the end of January.
(Queen v. Karla Homolka, Queen v. Paul Bernardo a.k.a Teale)