Public barred from pretrial conference for alleged mass murderer

Private hearing for Brittain

The man accused of committing the deadliest mass murder in Penticton's history will face trial in Kelowna in less than two weeks, but the public was barred from a pretrial hearing Wednesday. 

John Brittain turned himself in at the Penticton RCMP station on April 15, 2019, after four people in the city were fatally shot. Shortly after, Brittain was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, and he's remained in custody ever since.

His four-week trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5 in Kelowna, after the case was moved from Penticton.

On Wednesday, a pretrial conference for Brittain was held in Kelowna court, but despite the obvious public interest in the case, the hearing was closed to the public.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, pretrial conferences were held in open court unless ordered closed by a judge for a specific reason.

But now, these hearings are being held “off the record,” despite the “open-court principle” that governs the public's access to Canadian court proceedings. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada emphasized this principle “is not to be lightly interfered with.”

“The freedom of the press to report on judicial proceedings is a core value. Equally, the right of the public to receive information is also protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression,” the Supreme Court of Canada stated.

“Furthermore, the principle of openness of judicial proceedings extends to the pretrial stage of judicial proceedings.”

With regards to Wednesday's pretrial conference being closed to the public, Crown spokesperson Dan McLaughlin told Castanet he is “not at liberty to discuss the substance of discussions or the reason why it was in camera.”

He would not disclose if the request to exclude the public from the pretrial conference was made by the Crown or Brittain's defence.

McLaughlin confirmed Brittain's trial is still scheduled to begin on Oct. 5. While Brittain initially elected to be tried by a jury, he will now face a judge-alone trial.

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