A Toronto judge says he will issue a ruling later this afternoon on whether the public can see sealed police documents tied to a series of high-profile raids and arrests.
A group of Canadian news organizations is asking the judge to unseal the material that they believe could shed light on whether Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has a connection to alleged members of the Dixon City Bloods gang.
Police in Toronto and Windsor arrested 43 people in mid-June in what investigators dubbed "Project Traveller." They allege the suspects were part of the gang which police claim was trafficking in cocaine, crystal meth and illegal guns smuggled into Canada from the U.S.
The raids came weeks after reports emerged that Ford had been allegedly caught on video smoking a crack pipe. The mayor has denied the allegations and said the video does not exist.
- The agony of Rob Ford: view our interactive
An online fundraising campaign by the U.S. gossip website Gawker raised $200,000, but failed in a bid to buy the alleged video. It’s never been made public and CBC News has not seen it and cannot verify whether it even exists.
Media, Crown laid out case
"First of all we have an absolute right to this material, subject to the Crown raising good reasons why not," said Peter Jacobsen, a lawyer hired by CBC News, the Globe and Mail, Sun Media and a number of other news outlets.
"But more importantly this is all connected with the Ford video — or the alleged Ford video — and it also relates directly to the kind of governance we are getting in the city."
Crown prosecutors say the media will eventually be granted access to the police material used during Project Traveller, but they are asking that the court keep it sealed for at least six months.
Crown prosecutor Paul Renwick told the court on Tuesday that they need time to review the materials before they are released to the media.
He indicated that there is sensitive information involving confidential informants, police surveillance and potential wiretaps that would need to be blacked out.
The Crown also argued that some of the people facing charges need to be notified that the media wants access.
Media claims info on Ford is 'in public interest'
"Project Traveller" targeted a number of individuals and addresses that became associated with the recent Ford controversy.
Two of the men arrested in June, Muhammad Khattak and Monir Kassimm, were pictured in a now infamous photograph posing with Ford.
A third man in the photo, Anthony Smith, who police say was also a member of the Dixon City Bloods, was shot and killed in March.
"This is of great public interest as it may relate to allegations that the Mayor of Toronto has been associated with members of a criminal organization and was videotaped by them using crack cocaine," states a formal court application filed by media groups which asks a judge to unseal police "informations" filed by investigators to obtain search warrants for the June raids.
The media application goes on to argue that "the addresses at which the search warrants … were executed are reportedly associated with an alleged video depicting Mayor Ford. There are reports that the residential complex along Dixon Road at the heart of the raids includes a location where the alleged video depicting Mayor Ford may have been kept and that the police were aware of the alleged video before its existence became public."
Jacobsen notes there is no certainty that the warrants contain any evidence implicating the mayor in any wrongdoing; but he insists seeing the warrants may be the only way to clear the air.
Renwick declined public comment outside the court Tuesday. Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Brendan Crawley, would only say that the Crown's position has been made clear before the judge.