The public interest in televising the sentencing of Graham James in a Winnipeg courtroom on Tuesday is overwhelming. But the judge who will pronounce that sentence can’t see it, and neither can the Crown. They offer fears based on speculation. Speculation should not overcome the presumption of open courts and the constitutional protection of free speech.
Provincial Court Judge Catherine Carlson said the cameras could turn the case into a “spectacle,” bring it to “the brink of sensationalism” and revictimize the victims. And the Crown raised fears that the judge or court staff might be physically attacked.
The James case is not about prurient interest. That it involves a famous hockey player and a former junior coach reviled for his previous convictions does not make it unseemly or a spectacle. Far from it – its notoriety offers a chance to send a message about the crimes in question. These are cases of child abuse that involve hundreds of attacks on each of two teenage boys. They show how predators can work through subtle means of control, rather than weapons. They show, too, that boys, even strong, athletic ones, may be vulnerable to such control.
Is the Supreme Court of Canada a spectacle? Its hearings have been routinely televised since 1993. Were the 1989 Mount Cashel hearings on child sexual abuse a spectacle because they were televised?
The victims in the James case have voluntarily shed their anonymity. One of them, retired hockey star Theoren Fleury, wrote a book about it – heck, he’s made it his life’s mission to protect other children from similar abuse. The judge has made his work harder by blocking a mass medium that could contribute to public awareness.
A single camera could be kept in a fixed position – on the judge as she reads her sentencing decision. The Crown’s fear of violence verges on hysteria. In any event, lots of cases create raw emotion; free societies don’t close their courts as a result.