By: Mark Fitzgerald Newspapers in Canada challenge a judge's gag order while U.S. newspapers abide by it sp.
THREE BIG CANADIAN news organizations are challenging a murder trial gag order that has turned U.S. newspapers into contraband. The Toronto Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Southam Newspapers group are appealing the gag order on news about the sensational case of a husband and wife accused of abducting, sexually assaulting and killing two schoolgirls in St. Catharines, Ontario. Some restrictions on criminal news coverage that are intended to ensure fair trials are not unusual in Canada. However, the conditions of the gag order imposed by Justice Francis Kovacs are unusual in their sweep ? and in their enforcement against U.S. news organizations. Kovacs first imposed a gag order in July, when Karla Homolka, 23, was convicted after a one-day trial of man-slaughter in the deaths of two girls, 14 and 15. Homolka's estranged husband, Paul Teale, 29, faces a trial in April on the same charges. In what he said were steps to ensure a fair trial for Teale, Kovacs banned publication of details of the killings, which reportedly involved sexual assault and torture. He also forbade news organizations to report how Homolka pleaded in the case. To prevent disclosures by U.S. media, Kovacs took the more unusual step of banning foreign reporters from attending the trial. Attendance by Canadian journalists also was limited, and these reporters have been ordered not to talk about the case until Teale's trial is concluded. Since then, however, Canadian public interest in the trial has grown ? and Canadian officials have taken increasingly draconian steps to prevent the influx of news. A widely reprinted Washington Post story about the gruesome case touched off the latest flurry of activity Nov. 26. Canadian customs officials arrested 61 people who had crossed the border to pick up copies of Nov. 26 editions of the Buffalo News, which contained the Post story. Motorists who had more than one copy of the paper were presumed to have intent to commit a crime and were detained but not charged. About 187 copies of the News were seized, customs officials reported. Ironically, the News had printed a special edition for distribution in Canada that did not include the Homolka story. Also that Sunday, distributors refused to handle the Detroit News and Free Press because the combined Sunday paper included the Post story on its front page. Dec. 1, trucks carrying about 600 copies of the New York Times were turned back at the Canadian border. The papers included a story about the gag order controversy. However, copies of the Times national edition, which did not include the article, were permitted to be distributed from the airport in Toronto. The Times also said trucks carrying about 1,100 copies bound for Quebec were not stopped. The ban theoretically applies only to Ontario, but other Canadian papers are respecting it. U.S. newspapers, too, generally have respected the ban. USA Today, for instance, reported about the controversy Nov. 30 ? but it dropped the story from editions that circulated in Canada. And the Post has refused mail requests from Canada for copies of its story. In Canada, the ban is taken sufficiently seriously that the Ontario attorney general is considering whether to charge the Star with violating the order because Nov. 29 it printed a small photo ? with unreadable type ? of the front page of the seized News edition. Meanwhile, resourceful Canadians have found high-tech and other ways around the gag order. "Everybody is pretty well getting the information on computer databases, faxes and so forth," said John Foy, chairman of the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association.