Toronto

Court to rule on Stafford publication ban appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule Thursday on whether they'll hear an appeal in a controversial publication ban in the case of a woman charged in the death of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule Thursday on whether it'll hear an appeal of a controversial publication ban in the case of a woman charged in the death of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.

The sweeping ban raised hackles across the country when it was imposed April 30, 2010, with front-page newspaper editorials lambasting it as going too far.

Experts in media law called the extent of the ban unusual and said it would simply fuel rampant speculation.

Terri-Lynne McClintic, 20, and Michael Rafferty, 30, were arrested in May 2009 and charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of the Woodstock, Ont., girl, whose case captured the public's attention across the country.

The two were charged even before Victoria's remains were found, which didn't occur until July 2009, more than three months after she disappeared on April 8, 2009, outside her Woodstock school. Her remains were found some 100 kilometres away in a field north of Guelph, Ont.

McClintic was scheduled to appear in court April 30, but a temporary publication ban prohibited the media from providing any information about the appearance until further order of the court.

Ontario Superior Court of Justice Judge Dougald McDermid heard arguments to vary the ban the next month and delivered his order and reasons for it the next day.

Immediately after his decision, counsel told the court it would seek to appeal the order to the Supreme Court of Canada, and as a result, McDermid extended the already sweeping ban.

"To fail to grant the stay ... would render moot the issue of whether the order is correct in law and therefore has the potential to result in miscarriage of justice," he wrote at the time.

Ban blasted by media

The original ban was roundly condemned by the country's largest newspapers.

"Gagged," read the bold headline on the front page of the Toronto Star.

"This ban goes too far," argued an editorial in the Globe and Mail.

McDermid extended the publication ban until the appeal has been dealt with or until further order of the court.

The Ministry of the Attorney General announced in June that it would proceed with a direct indictment in Rafferty's case, meaning he will go to trial without having a preliminary hearing.

Preliminary hearings are held to see if there is enough evidence to go to trial. Direct indictments are used when the attorney general wants a case to go to trial as soon as possible and where the minister feels there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Rafferty made a court appearance by video on Nov. 30. He appeared to have gained weight since his May 2009 arrest. At times, he appeared to be smirking, and at the end of the hearing, he could be heard loudly sighing.

Court heard submissions on a Crown application seeking clarification on an automatic publication ban under Section 648 of the Criminal Code.

It states that in jury trials, no information regarding any portion of the trial at which the jury is not present can be published before the jury retires to consider its verdict.