Home / Media access to Surrey terror suspects' apartment squalor was illegal: civil liberties group

Media access to Surrey terror suspects’ apartment squalor was illegal: civil liberties group

By James Keller/timescolonist.com
Published July 4, 2013

VANCOUVER – RCMP investigators had barely finished sifting through the personal belongings of a British Columbia couple accused of planning a Canada Day terrorist attack when reporters, photographers and camera operators descended on the two-bedroom basement apartment near Vancouver, eager to get a look inside.

The suspects’ landlords, who live on the main floor of the house in a residential area of Surrey, B.C., were all too ready to oblige, allowing a steady stream of journalists to document the messy squalor inside the suite.

John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were arrested on Canada Day and details of the plot were unveiled by the RCMP at a news conference the following day.

Images from inside the apartment — including posters and books featuring Arabic writing, prescription methadone bottles belonging to Korody and printed photographs — were soon beamed across the country, offering a glimpse into the lives of two suspected terrorists.

But a civil liberties organization and a tenants’ rights group are raising concerns about the fact that journalists were allowed in at all, suggesting the media tours violated tenancy and privacy laws.

“It’s illegal,” said Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“As far as we’re concerned, based on the information we know, it was illegal for the landlord to let anyone in or go in themselves.”

Paterson says provincial tenancy laws only allow landlords to enter suites with the permission of the tenant or in an emergency.

Provincial privacy laws also forbid anyone to enter a private dwelling without permission, he said.

“Just because you’re accused of a crime, it doesn’t mean that your landlord gets to have an open house,” he said.

Tom Durning of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre agreed

“These are rights,” he said. “Whether (the landlord) did it through ignorance — landlords should know that you just can’t walk in and expose these people and their house to public scrutiny.”

However, both the tenancy laws and the provincial Privacy Act would require the tenant to file a formal complaint or civil suit to claim their rights had been violated.

The Canadian Press was among the media outlets that toured the suite, sending both a photographer and a reporter to the apartment, where a landlord invited them inside.

“We believed the landlord had the authority to let us in and that we were there legally,” said Scott White, Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Press. “We went in and reported on it because there is a public interest in Canadians learning who the accused are, and learning how they lived is part of that.”

There was a number of reporters, photographers and TV camera operators going in and out of the suite on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There was some indication that property had been moved around by some of the members of the media.

A Canadian Press reporter who was inside the apartment saw another journalist rifling through a box of photos, while a camera operator from yet another outlet could be seen arranging photographs before filming them. Other items in the apartment had clearly been moved throughout the day on Wednesday.

The landlord, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, said the police officers who searched the apartment told her it wouldn’t be a problem to allow reporters in. She also said she called the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch to ask whether she could enter the apartment to clean it up, and she said she was told it would be OK to go inside.

“I have been here for 30 years, I have never seen this scenario before, I never know what to do,” said the landlord.

The landlord added she believed some reporters who were inside went too far.

“Some take too much advantage from this, because they see everything, photos — they should not do it,” she said.

Sgt. Peter Thiessen of the RCMP said he couldn’t comment on any conversations between the landlord and police officers at the scene.

“We completed our search and have no further interest in that suite, and what the landlord may be allowing has nothing to do with the RCMP,” said Thiessen.

“There’s nothing criminal, we have received no complaint in regards to unauthorized people being in that suite. Beyond that, it’s up to the media to decide whether they have the legal authority to enter that suite.”

Ross Howard, who teaches journalism at Langara College in Vancouver, said the case raises ethical questions about balancing the rights of Nuttall and Korody against the public’s right to know. He said it would clearly be wrong to break into the apartment, but in this case, the landlord invited the reporters inside.

“This one is a tough call — the public probably has lots of interest in knowing more about these people … and that kind of information might be possible to glean from going through some of the stuff in their apartment.

“But no doubt, the reporters were invading the privacy of people who have only been accused but not yet found guilty of anything. That’s the two sides of it, and I’m not 100 per cent sure which side to come down on.”