Monday, May 04, 2015

No dirty little Harper family secrets!

Judge rejects media's bid to unseal papers that could reveal private details about the Harper family

Stephen Maher
Thursday, April 30, 2015

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen board a government plane as they depart for China, Wednesday, November 5, 2011 in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

A judge has ruled that the unusually strict sealing order on a case involving allegations of leaks from the prime minister’s RCMP protective detail shall stay in place.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Vallee rejected the arguments of media lawyer Brian McLeod Rogers, who applied two weeks ago for her to unseal documents in an affidavit filed in December by a lawyer acting for Sgt. Peter Merrifield, who is is suing the RCMP for harassment and bullying, alleging systematic abuse and coverups by senior Mounties.

The documents, which are believed to contain information about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s family, were sealed by Vallee in December at the request of lawyers for the federal Justice Department, who have been fighting Merrifield’s suit on behalf of the RCMP.
Rogers argued in court that Vallee should unseal portions of the documents, which are believed to have been sealed because they contain information that could identify a confidential informant.

But Vallee ruled Thursday that none of the information can be made public and she can’t say why.

“All of the information in those materials and the order relates to a subject matter which must be protected from disclosure,” she wrote.

“Because the subject matter must be protected, I am not at liberty to describe the nature of the subject matter or why it must be protected. Disclosure of redacted versions of the materials and the order would be meaningless because all text in the materials and the order would have to be redacted.”

During Rogers’ application, Justice Department lawyer Barney Brucker discussed Section 37 of the Canada Evidence Act, a provision that allows a judge to order information be kept secret to protect a “specified public interest.” It is not known whether that provision, which has been used to protect evidence in terrorism cases, was invoked in a closed-door proceeding.

Sources say the sealed affidavit in this case is accompanied by four letters sent by private investigator Derrick Snowdy to assistant RCMP commissioner Stephen White. The letters contain allegations about RCMP wrongdoing, including repeated information leaks that threaten the safety of confidential informants, and the leak of private information about Harper’s family by officers from the prime minister’s protection detail.

In her ruling, Vallee wrote that she agrees that the open-court principle invoked by Rogers “are hallmarks of our free and democratic society.”

However, she wrote, “in some situations the court does not have the discretion to permit public access to certain types of information.”

Rogers, who is acting for the National Post and Postmedia News, CBC, Maclean’s and the Toronto Star, said during his application that he was constrained in the arguments he could make because he was not aware of the reasons for the sealing order.


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