Canadian judge threatens U.S. journalists with contempt
BUFFALO, N.Y.–A television station stopped reporting on portions of a sensational Toronto murder trial after a Canadian court threatened to hold U.S. journalists in contempt if they broke a publication ban outside of Canada.
Judge Patrick LeSage issued a warning to the press after a May 19 report by Buffalo’s WKBW-TV that defendant Paul Bernardo’s lawyer argued for a mistrial after the jury left the courtroom at the end of the opening statements. Under Canadian law, journalists may report on only those proceedings that take place while the jury is present. Journalists breaking the ban could be barred from the courtroom and charged with contempt of court.
Lisa Flynn, the WKBW reporter covering the trial, said her station has not broadcast prohibited information since the judge’s May 23 warning. She added, however, that WKBW management has a policy that the station will not abide by the ban when broadcasting in the United States.
An even stricter ban was in place during the trial of Bernardo’s former wife, Karla Homulka, two years ago. Both are accused in the deaths of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14, who allegedly were captives in Bernardo’s house while they were sexually tortured and then strangled.
At Homulka’s trial, where she was sentenced to 12 years in prison for manslaughter, U.S. reporters were not allowed in the courtroom to prevent them from publishing prohibited information outside of Canada. Some U.S. media broke the publishing ban, however, and Canadians learned details of the trial by reading articles which were smuggled or transmitted across the border.
The Canadian judge maintains that because juries are not sequestered, information reported by the press must be limited so that jurors are not privy to court proceedings conducted outside of their presence. (Regina v. Bernardo)