An Ontario judge has criticized “reckless” public comments by Prime Minister Doug Ford, Mayor John Tory and others about the murder of a Toronto police officer in a city hall parking lot earlier this year.
His comments came at a court hearing Thursday in which the man charged with first-degree murder for the death of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup took the highly unusual step of asking the court to partially lift a common posting ban and allow the public to learn more details of what happened on the night of July 1, 2021, a move he claimed was necessary to counter. misleading and inaccurate comments. made by politicians and Toronto Police Chief James Ramer, and rescue his client’s right to a fair trial.
Umar Zameer, 30, is charged with running over the plainclothes officer with a car. He was released on bail after a three-day hearing in September, a rare occurrence on a murder charge. The decision was harshly criticized by Ford, Tory, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and others, and Ford called it “beyond comprehension.”
In court Thursday, Superior Court Judge Jill Copeland said her inflammatory remarks appeared to have been made without reading her decision.
“One might have hoped, Your Honor, that a Superior Court judge’s decision to release someone on bail would have led to the inference … which, okay, maybe there’s more to this than we think and we should. suspend the trial ”, argued Zameer’s lawyer, Nader Hasan. “But any chance of that happening was undermined when leading political figures used their positions of power to criticize the court’s decision and the bail process.”
In its arguments against the partial lifting of the publication ban, the Crown argued that the fact that Zameer was released on bail despite the serious charges leaves the public with the impression that there is “something else” to consider. about the case.
Copeland replied, “He talks to you. He did not appear to speak to some of the public figures who commented on the decision without reading the decision, which they could have done. “
Hasan argued that parts of the bail hearing that include uncontroversial facts about what happened that night should also be made public to correct comments Ramer made at a press conference shortly after Zameer’s arrest, including that the murder was “intentional. and deliberate. “
(A Toronto Police spokesperson said that “as the matter is in court, we are unable to offer any comment at this time).
That, in addition to statements by politicians, has left the public with the false narrative that Zameer must be guilty, Hasan argued. Meanwhile, he said, online comments have unfairly accused Zameer of being a “bully” and a terrorist and he fears for his safety and that of his family.
Apart from the outcome, the content of the bail hearing, including the evidence presented by the Crown and the judge’s reasons for his decision, cannot be published under Article 517 of the Penal Code, a prohibition that lasts until the end of the process. penal.
This posting ban is used in almost all bail hearings and is mandatory when requested by the defense, as it was in this case. Its aim is to protect the right of the accused person to a fair trial by preventing potential jurors from being biased by hearing unsubstantiated evidence.
Since the posting ban remains in effect pending Copeland’s decision, the reasons the defense argues that the comments are misleading or inaccurate based on the evidence presented at the bond hearing cannot be released.
Shortly after Zameer was released on bail, Ford tweeted that the decision “was beyond all comprehension. It is completely unacceptable that the person accused of this heinous crime is now out on bail. Our justice system must act together and begin to put victims and their families ahead of criminals. “
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said the decision was “disgusting” and “very disturbing.”
In an email Thursday, Brown said “it would be an understatement to say that our residents were disappointed when the alleged individual was released on bail.”
Mayor John Tory said it was “concerning” and “wrong” that such a “questionable” decision was covered by a publication ban.
“Mayor Tory was voicing his personal opinion as an elected official on serious public affairs, as he is expected to do on a daily basis,” said Tory spokesman Don Peat. “Increased transparency by the court system, including disclosure of all or part of the reasons for a bail decision so that the media can report it immediately, will contribute to the legitimacy of those difficult decisions in the eyes of the public and at the same time protect the right to a fair trial ”.
Peat did not respond whether Tory had read the decision before describing it as “questionable.” Brown and Ford did not respond to requests for comment.
Copeland noted that the Ontario Attorney General did not reject these comments.
“As director of law for this province (he) did not come out and say, ‘Hello everyone, take your trial, Mr. Zameer has the right to a fair trial,’ he said.
Crown prosecutor Karen Simone argued that the publication ban, which the Crown would have pursued had the defense not done so, should remain in effect because it is necessary to prevent witnesses from conspiring or their evidence from being inadvertently tainted. by other testimonies if the evidence is made public. . He also argued that had there not been a publication ban at the beginning of the bail hearing, the Crown would not have presented the evidence in such detail.
The other concern is that releasing parts of the bail decision could have the opposite effect the defense wants and lead to a public backlash against Zameer or the court ruling, undermining his rights to a fair trial, he argued.
Zameer was released on $ 335,000 bond with strict conditions, three guarantees and a driving ban. When deciding whether to release someone on bail, a judge assesses the strength of the Crown’s case and considers whether the defendant is a flight risk, whether there is a danger to the public, and whether the decision to release the defendant would undermine public confidence in the justice system.
Judge Copeland is expected to issue a decision in January.
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