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Justin Bourque evidence release could have wider impact, lawyer says

12/06/2014 03:16 EST | Updated 02/05/2015 05:59 EST
One day after a judge made public candid audio and video recordings related to Moncton Mountie killer Justin Bourque's murder spree, his lawyer says the decision to release the evidence could lead lawyers to discourage suspects from giving statements to police in future criminal investigations. 

"As a result of this decision, all defence lawyers in speaking to their clients ought to be saying to them, 'Well, not only might the police use this, but it might be on the 6 o'clock news, too. So if you have any concerns for your family or your reputation, you ought not to make a statement,'" said lawyer David Lutz, who represented Bourque.

​Lutz said he's also concerned that the evidence from Bourque's sentencing hearing could lead to the confessed killer being "seen as some type of vigilante and become a militant cult hero." 

On Friday, a New Brunswick judge ordered the 19 exhibits from Bourque's sentencing be released after a host of media outlets requested access. The video, audio and other documents were then provided Friday afternoon.

The prosecution and defence objected to turning over some parts of the evidence, including police radio recordings of the RCMP officers Bourque shot.

Bourque, 24, was sentenced in October to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years for killing three RCMP officers in Moncton on June 4 and wounding two others. It is the longest sentence without parole eligibility in Canadian history (and the harshest sentence since the last executions in 1962), and followed his guilty plea to three counts of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder. 

Important to the public interest, says media lawyer

David Coles, the lawyer for the CBC and other media who sought access to the evidence, had argued the 19 exhibits submitted by the Crown and defence during Bourque's sentencing hearing should be released because they were important to helping the public understand what happened.

"The sensitivity of individuals, while we can all understand that, cannot trump the fundamental principle of our court system — that they are open, and that public have a right to understand and see the evidence upon which someone is convicted or acquitted," Coles said.

Pascal Raiche-Nogue, president of Acadie Nouvelle, said the media has already had the opportunity to see the exhibits in court, and now they can help the public sift through what happened.

"Those elements will help the public to understand what happened on June 4 in Moncton," he said.

'Revictimizes the survivors'

But Bourque's lawyer Lutz said news reports based on the evidence will impact his client's family, potentially for a long time.

"My client was ashamed of what he did. He didn't want his words to carry over into the public in perpetuity, and he was also interested in protecting his family. He comes from a very nice family, and he didn't want them to bear the brunt of his shameful deeds in the media, on YouTube, where have you," Lutz said. 

He said he also has concerns about the impact on the victims in this case.

"It's awful enough what Justin Bourque did, but to have it out there forever, I would suggest does re-victimize the survivors," Lutz said. 

Lutz also said he doesn't believe the information released will help prevent further tragedies like these from happening.

"I don't know what public good can come from it but I have to accept that we live in an age of immediate media," he said. 

Coles said it's understandable the Crown and defence wanted to fight the release of the exhibits.

"I think the Crown was expressing the concerns of the widows of those officers and certain unnamed members of the RCMP, who are still off-duty because of this tragedy. They didn't want these images broadcast — Mr. Bourque's interview with the police, broadcasted and on the internet. I assume, and it's understandable, that they simply wanted to put this behind them," he said.

However, Coles argued that the open court principle is "critical for people to have faith in the justice system."

"And if you're going to grant an extraordinary order to seal exhibits, you really only can do that when the administration of justice would be put into disrepute. In this case, there is a legitimate public interest in understanding the evidence that was viewed by the chief justice in New Brunswick when he handed down the longest, strictest sentence handed down in this country since 1962."

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