A judge has approved a no communication order between the man accused of fatally shooting four people in Penticton and his ex-wife.
John Brittain is accused of shooting and killing his ex-wife’s neighbours — Darlene Knippelberg, Susan and Barry Wonch and Rudi Winter — in April. He appeared at the courthouse via video from the Okanagan Correctional Institution on Friday.
Crown counsel Andrew Vandersluys said the reasoning behind the order is to not risk the integrity of the investigation, as well as the potential that the ex-wife is called as a witness.
The family of one of the four that were shot wept in the gallery as Brittain’s defence lawyer, Paul McMurray, made his argument against the order. McMurray said he had already advised and cautioned the ex-spouse that she could potentially be called as a witness. However, Brittain and his ex-wife have already had contact since he has been in jail.
“They were in a close relationship, apart from living separate and apart, but they were supportive of each other and they still are supportive of each other. Mrs. (Katherine) Brittain has relayed to me that she is isolated, she’s somewhat of a prisoner in her own home. She has no support in the community and she does have limited contact with Mr. Brittain. He has corresponded with her,” said McMurray, who added that he believes they have had one telephone conversation.
McMurray said the risk to the integrity of the investigation is minimal and that any contact whether telephone, letters, or visitation at the jail (which would be via video link and not face-to-face) would be monitored “under a microscope.” He suggested that RCMP could step up the monitoring if required, but the communication between the ex-spouses is purely for emotional support.
Judge Gregory Koturbash said he did not agree that RCMP would be able to step up monitoring or that the type of stringent over-seeing that defence suggested would be sufficient to ensure the integrity of the investigation.
“I am not entirely confident that monitoring can effectively take place. There was a recent case here in this area, a case where Mr. (Ronald) Teneycke, he was able to send a letter to his victim despite being a declared a dangerous offender and being ordered not to have contact with the victim. So he was able to communicate with him while he was in jail,” said Koturbash.
Koturbash included in his decision to approve the order that the court should check in with the Crown at each stage to verify that it still needs to be in place.
Brittain will be back in court on the four murder charges on June 26, where it is expected that Crown will provide disclosure to the defence.
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