Defence lawyer explains somewhat unusual Borutski court proceedings

Jury selected for trial of accused triple murderer

Court proceedings in the high-profile case of a man accused of killing three eastern Ontario women have been somewhat unusual so far, so CBC News asked an Ottawa defence lawyer to explain them.

Basil Borutski is accused of killing Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, and Carol Culleton, 66, in Renfrew County on the morning of Sept. 22, 2015.

Ontario Provincial Police found their bodies at separate locations within a roughly 25-kilometre radius of Wilno, Ont.

The trial, before a judge and jury, is scheduled to begin Sept. 18, 2017, and continue for several months. Borutski has not hired a lawyer.

Case moved to Ottawa

It was originally scheduled to take place in a Pembroke, Ont., courthouse, which handles cases for that region. But Pembroke Superior Court Justice James McNamara made the decision to move it to Ottawa earlier this month — in large part because of travel costs.

"It's actually very uncommon. It's one of the most difficult motions to succeed in," Ottawa defence lawyer Jason Gilbert told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday.

"Normally when there's a venue change it's brought on by a motion that's brought by ... the defence, who contend that if the trial were to remain in the jurisdiction where it's currently set, it would be impossible to obtain an impartial jury panel because of the high-profile, maybe heinous nature of the allegations.

"That's not the reason for the venue change here ... and certainly, if it had been, it would have gone a lot further than Pembroke to Ottawa."

Borutski is being held in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and would have to be taken back and forth between the Ottawa jail and Pembroke. As well, two Ottawa-based lawyers have been appointed by the court to assist with the case, and their travel costs would have to be covered at taxpayer expense, Gilbert said.

Listen to the entire interview with Gilbert here.​

Court appoints lawyers to help

James Foord has been appointed as a "friend of the court" to ensure a fair trial for Borutski.

"They would typically make certain legal submissions to the court to ensure that the court is cognizant of the various relevant points of law that the accused may have to raise and may be ill-equipped to raise himself," Gilbert explained.

Patrick McCann, meanwhile, has been appointed to cross-examine witnesses who don't feel comfortable being questioned by Borutski.

"It's just to ensure the smooth running of the trial, it's to avoid any feeling of discomfort or potential intimidation on the part of the witness," Gilbert said.

"It's important to point out the Criminal Code states specifically … the jury isn't to make any negative assumptions about the accused simply because this step has been taken, because very often it's simply because of the personal, emotional feelings of the witness involved."