WOODSTOCK, Ont. - A controversial publication ban in the case of a woman charged in the death of eight-year-old Tori Stafford — branded a gag order by critics — was extended Wednesday.
The sweeping ban raised hackles across the country when it was brought in April 30, with front-page newspaper editorials lambasting it as going too far. Experts in media law called the extent of the ban unusual and one that would simply fuel rampant speculation.
Justice Dougald McDermid heard arguments to vary the ban Tuesday and delivered his order and reasons in open court Wednesday.
Immediately afterward counsel told the court it would seek to appeal the order to the Supreme Court of Canada, and as a result McDermid extended the sweeping ban.
As he did on April 30, McDermid issued a hand-written order of what information was publishable, which gave some indication as to why he granted the extension.
"To fail to grant the stay... would render moot the issue of whether the order is correct in law and therefore has the potential to result in miscarriage of justice," he wrote.
When Tori, clad in her Hannah Montana jacket, failed to return home from school on April 8, 2009 it set off a desperate search that touched hearts countrywide.
Terri-Lynne McClintic, 19, and Michael Rafferty, 29, were arrested the following month and charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping.
Tori's remains were not found until more than three months after her disappearance, some 100 kilometres away in a field north of Guelph.
McClintic was scheduled to appear in court April 30 but the temporary publication ban prohibited the media from providing any further information until further order of the court.
The original ban was roundly condemned by the country's largest newspapers.
"Gagged" read the bold headline on the front page of the Toronto Star.
"This ban goes too far" argued an editorial in the Globe and Mail.
McDermid wrote that the current ban is extended until the appeal has been dealt with, or until further order of the court.
Tori's father, Rodney Stafford, said outside court he didn't know if he was in favour of the publication ban because he could see all sides.
"I see the media side, but I also see my side, which is Victoria's side and Victoria's rights," Stafford said.
"She's never going to be able to express her rights."
Stafford said the past year has been traumatic, but he is intent on moving forward.
"I keep telling everybody, you know, granted, yeah, there's a dark, heinous cloud over our heads, (but) follow me out," he said. "We can't change what happened."
Ontario Opposition justice critic Ted Chudleigh said Wednesday sweeping publication bans go against the openness of Canadian society, but added the "administration of justice is a very fragile thing."
"We have to trust judges' opinions in this matter," he added. "We can only judge the judge after the ban is lifted and find out about the administration of justice."
Premier Dalton McGuinty, responding to criticism of the ban, has said he's confident the facts in the first-degree murder proceedings would eventually come out.
The hearing, which allows a judge to weigh the evidence and decide if the case can move forward to trial, is expected to last about four weeks.
Stafford and his 12-year-old son Daryn leave next month on a bike ride to fundraise money for Child Find Ontario. Last year Stafford rode from Woodstock to Edmonton.
This year he and his son are riding on a tandem bike from Edmonton to Woodstock on a journey they're calling Kilometres for Kids 2: A Sibling's Story.