Jun. 12, 2002. 01:00 AM
Judge places further limits on reporting
But parents of children seek end to publication ban
By Kate Harries
ST. THOMAS — The judge in a child protection case involving a fundamentalist Christian family tightened the screws on a publication ban still further yesterday.
But in a surprise move, lawyers representing the parents reversed their position and asked for the ban on reporting to be lifted.
Responding to a motion from lawyer Donald Kilpatrick, acting for the children, Madam Justice Eleanor Schnall agreed that information heard in evidence in voir dire — a trial within a trial — cannot be published, even though it was public knowledge before the trial began.
"The order is, what you hear and see on the voir dire evidence, you cannot publish, period," she said in reference to her first order in the case, which is being appealed by The Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the National Post, Canadian Press and the London Free Press.
Her interpretation appears to mean that even the scant details recounted in the media since the case started two weeks ago, such as the number of children, their age range, and the date and circumstances under which the case first came to public attention, can no longer be reported.
Schnall stopped short of granting the remedy sought by Kilpatrick: the exclusion of London Free Press reporter Jonathan Sher from the courtroom for the rest of the trial because of a paragraph in a story that appeared in that paper on Saturday.
But she took issue with the position put forward by Free Press lawyer Renato Gasparotto that the paragraph did not violate her order because the information had been published eight times and had been confirmed by the parents almost a year ago.
"Publishing it more doesn't make it right," Schnall replied, adding that she found the parents' revised position on the publication ban "self-serving."
Lawyers Valerie Wise and Michael Menear, representing the mother and father respectively, both opposed Kilpatrick's motion — arguing that innuendo and speculation are filling a void created by the ban.
"Our sense of the ban and its utility is such that it's not working," Menear said. "It would be better to lift the ban and let the reporters report."
Schnall declared herself to be "perplexed that counsel for the parents now want to do a 180-degree turn. ... I can't believe that the parents are now saying, `Yes, let's go back to the mistakes we made before and lift the ban.'"
Terms of the ban do not permit an explanation of what she meant by "mistakes."
"To suggest that the ban is not working and therefore we should lift the ban is like saying people commit crimes, let's abolish the Criminal Code," the judge added.
Schnall also chastised lawyer Alfred Mamo, who represents Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin, for opposing Kilpatrick's motion.
He described it as "devoid of common sense" and having the effect of muzzling the media.
The case continues today.