A Yukon Supreme Court deputy justice has quashed a subpoena against Yukon News editor Ashley Joannou that would have required her to testify in a trial over a former Liberal candidate’s alleged violations of the Elections Act in 2016.
Tamara Goeppel, a former territorial Liberal candidate who ran for Whitehorse Centre in the November 2016 territorial election, was charged in February 2017 with two counts of aiding or abetting people in making proxy voting applications that didn’t comply with the act. She’s also charged with one count of prompting people to falsely declare on proxy applications that they would be absent from the Yukon during voting hours.
It’s alleged that Goeppel helped 10 without stable and steady housing fill out proxy voting applications that would allow someone else to vote on their behalf. Her trial began Aug. 27.
The Crown had subpoenaed Joannou to testify at the trial, because, during the time in question, Joannou was the politics reporter for the News and had interviewed Goeppel about the alleged violations. Joannou then wrote a story which heavily quoted Goeppel acknowledging and justifying her actions.
The News and Joannou filed an application to quash the subpoena last week. The application argued that the Crown had failed to prove that Joannou would be able to provide material evidence, meaning evidence that would prove or disprove key facts relevant to the trial, and that the Crown had also failed to alert the justice of the peace issuing the subpoena that Joannou was a member of the media and therefore entitled to special consideration.
The application was heard before Yukon Supreme Court deputy justice John Vertes the morning of Aug. 27, bringing Goeppel’s trial to a temporary halt.
Vertes returned with a decision an hour later.
“The party seeking the subpoena must establish that it’s probable that the witness is able to provide evidence material to the issues … Here, there is no evidence that the issuing justice of the peace took any steps to satisfy himself or herself that the witness is likely to give material evidence,” Vertes said in his oral decision.
Vertes also said there was no evidence to show that the justice of the peace considered, or was even asked to consider, the “the special circumstances of the media and the necessity to balance the competing societal interests of freedom of the press and the need to investigate and prosecute crimes.”
“…The story itself indicates that several others are aware of the circumstances related in the story and Crown counsel said he had a number of other witnesses available to testify as to the circumstances. It seems to me that these reasons alone are sufficient to set aside the subpoena,” Vertes continued. “However, and furthermore, I am not satisfied that the evidence is material… I am not satisfied that the testimony of Ms. Joannou is necessary for the Crown’s case and it would not be reasonable to issue the subpoena under these circumstances.”
Vertes granted the application and quashed the subpoena.
In a brief interview after the decision, lawyer Meagan Hannam, who represented Joannou, said she was “very pleased” with the outcome.
“Subpoenas against the media should be issued as a last resort,” she said. “…It’s out hope that in the future, those steps are followed when the subpoena is issued so we don’t need to go through this again.”
Crown attorney Leo Lane declined to comment.
Goeppel’s trial is expected to continue the afternoon of Aug. 27.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org