A bid by the B.C. Liberal government to have the trials of Stanley Cup rioters broadcast on TV and radio is inconsistent with policies against cameras in the courts, B.C. prosecutors say.
“At this point, the [Criminal Justice Branch]does not intend to ask prosecutors handling the riot cases to advocate that the proceedings be broadcast,” Neil MacKenzie, spokesman for the justice branch, said hours after it was released in the Throne Speech.
Mr. MacKenzie noted that the branch has consistently opposed cameras in courtrooms, and acknowledged the government could issue a directive on the matter to the assistant deputy attorney-general who presides over the branch.
Asked about standing against the government, Mr. MacKenzie said, “All I can say is that’s the position the branch is taking.”
In Monday’s Throne Speech, the B.C. government announced it had asked Crown counsel to advocate for television cameras and radio-recording devices to be allowed in the courtrooms during the trials of those accused of participating in the riot on June 15.
Premier Christy Clark was blunt when asked about the policy.
“When it comes to the Stanley Cup riots, those guys had no problem doing their crimes quite in public with all kinds of people taking pictures and doing videos all around them, so I think they should have no problem being tried in public either,” she told reporters in Victoria.
NDP Opposition Leader Adrian Dix dismissed the measure as a gimmick. “I don’t think this is a top priority,” he said. “What people expect are long-term solutions. I know that gimmicks can be attractive to people, but what people want in our court system is to ensure that when people are arrested for violent offences that they are brought to trial … and not these gimmicks that are about politicians doing victory laps.”
The Throne Speech notes that “the breakdown in civil order requires that justice be done and seen to be done,” but offers no further elaboration. No charges have been laid in connection with the riot, but Vancouver police have said they expect to do so this month.
Robert Bauman, chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, said judges would decide whether such proceedings are recorded for broadcast.
He noted, in a statement issued Monday after the announcement from Victoria, that some proceedings are exempt from coverage, such as those of defendants under 19.
Earlier this year, Judge Bauman allowed cameras for some proceedings in a challenge over the constitutionality of polygamy laws. He referred to the matter as an “exceptional case.”
The president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said it has always advocated for cameras in courtrooms to allow the public to monitor legal proceedings.
Robert Holmes said the rights of accused will be protected if the recording devices are allowed.
“Obviously, the courts will be there and have a discretion to ensure if there are any qualifications that have to be put on how this is done, these will be addressed,” said Mr. Holmes, also past president of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C.
Sharon Matthews, president of the B.C branch of the Canadian Bar Association, said she understands that the government seems to be caught up in the public outrage.
“But the role of the judiciary is to rise above the emotional content and do what’s in the best interest of securing a just result,” she said in an interview.
She said it struck her as being unusual for the government to use a Throne Speech to set out a policy for a specific set of cases, but “they want to show they understand public outrage over the riot.”