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Media swarming California shooters' home recalls incident in B.C.

Screenshot from a CBS news broadcast inside the suspects' house. (Credit: CBS).

VANCOUVER — A chaotic scene unfolded Friday when a landlord pried open the door of the California townhouse where San Bernardino mass shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik lived.

Dozens of journalists pushed through and broadcast live from inside the cramped home, rifling through the deceased suspects' books, passports, shredded documents and photo albums.

But don't chalk the incident up to brash American journalism — a similar incident happened in Canada, too.

Days after John Nuttall and Amanda Korody planted what they thought were bombs at the Victoria Legislature grounds in July 2013, reporters combed their dishevelled home in Surrey, B.C., looking for clues into their lives.

"It's fundamentally problematic," said Josh Paterson of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

"However sure the media or the public may be that someone has done something, there's nothing that says that media can just go through their houses and rifle through their belongings."

Paterson said while he can't speak to U.S. law, the media tours of the B.C. suspects' home violated tenancy and privacy laws. Their landlords didn't have the authority to allow a steady stream of journalists inside the two-bedroom basement suite, he said.

"Unless these reporters were plumbers to fix a flood in the apartment, a landlord has no right to admit them."

Images of posters and books featuring Arabic writing, and prescription methadone bottles belonging to Korody were broadcast around the country.

A Canadian Press reporter went inside and saw another journalist rifling through a box of photos and a camera operator arranging pictures before filming them.

Former Editor-in-Chief Scott White said at the time that The Canadian Press believed the landlord had the legal right to allow in the media and there was a public interest in learning how the accused lived.

The landlord said at the time that police told her there was no problem with letting the reporters in.

Nuttall and Korody were found guilty of terror charges earlier this year, but lawyers are now arguing the police, who had made sure the devices the couple planted were harmless, manipulated the pair into committing the crime.

Chris Waddell, an associate professor at Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, said the B.C. and California cases are somewhat different because the San Bernardino suspects are dead and not facing trial.

But in either situation, the media is constructing a narrative about the suspects based on their apparent lifestyle, he said.

"Putting all this information out there of someone who's been charged with something can certainly frame the public's perception of whether this person is guilty or not," Waddell said.

"The media shouldn't be doing that and our system shouldn't be convicting people on the basis of their character. They're convicted of offences on the basis of what they actually did, not of who they are."

Malik and Farook died in a fierce gunbattle with authorities hours after their assault on a gathering of Farook's colleagues from San Bernardino County's health department. The FBI said it is investigating the mass shooting, which left 14 dead, as an act of terrorism.

Several major U.S. outlets broadcast from inside the suspects' home on Friday. A CNN reporter picked up prayer beads and books to show to the camera. Other stations showed children's toys in front of a broken window boarded-up with plywood.

MSNBC broadcast an up-close look at a drivers license belonging to Rafia Farook, believed to be Farook's mother. Rafia Farook's photo, address and other personal details were all clearly visible.

The shot could be seen as violating a reporter's duty of care, said Alfred Hermida, director of the University of British Columbia's school of journalism.

"I think it's very hard to make an argument that there is a public interest there, because (Rafia Farook) is not the suspect in this case," he said.

Backlash against the images of media inside the shooters' home was swift, with people tweeting their disdain. It's a far cry from the days when people would simply change the channel or vow to not buy the paper again, Hermida said.

But the outrage may not stop media outlets from entering suspects' homes in the future, he added, because the stories get a lot of attention.

"There's a potential risk there," Hermida said. "But at the same time, if you're seeking publicity or notoriety, maybe that's something that you're willing to do."

Laura Kane and Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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