The murders of billionaire couple Bernard and Honey Sherman of Toronto shocked Canadians across the country, who tend to believe that the very wealthy lead charmed lives. The case attracted huge attention, not only for the prominence of the Sherman’s and their political connections, but for the initial misstep, when the Toronto Police first pronounced their deaths a suicide. (Donovan v. Sherman Estate, 2019 ONCA 376)
The latest chapter in this story played out in a courtroom on April 29, 2019 when the Toronto Sun newspaper and reporter Kevin Donovan brought an appeal from a motions judge who ordered that the Sherman court files be sealed in order to protect the privacy and dignity of the victims of violence and their loved ones. The court also accepted the argument of the estate of the Sherman’s that without a sealing order, there was a reasonable apprehension of a risk to those who had in interest in the estate.
The Appeal Court confirmed that the lower court had applied the correct legal test which requires a party seeking a sealing order to show that the order is necessary to prevent a serious risk to an important public interest which cannot be protected by other reasonable alternative methods. Secondly, the party seeking an order must establish that the salutary effects of the order outweigh the negative effects on the right of freedom of expression and other public interests served by open, transparent courts.
However, the Appeal Court held that the focus on a risk of harm to the estate administrators and beneficiaries was not proven on the limited evidence before the motions judge. The Appeal Court allowed the appeal and set aside the sealing order finding that the lower court’s analysis was flawed:
“In our view, the motion judge’s analysis comes down to the proposition that because the Shermans were murdered by some unknown person or persons, for some unknown motive, individuals named as beneficiaries in their estates or as administrators of their estates are at risk of serious physical harm. With respect, the suggestion that the beneficiaries and trustees are somehow at risk because the Shermans were murdered is not an inference, but is speculation. It provides no basis for a sealing order.”
The Respondents requested the opportunity to present proposed “redactions” of the file but that too was denied.
The public can expect to learn more about this case when the sealed file is opened in 10 days.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang