The B.C. government has pulled the plug on Premier Christy Clark’s attempt to bring cameras into the court room for Stanley Cup riot cases.
The government made the announcement late Monday, shortly after a judge ruled that the sentencing hearing on Tuesday of the first person to plead guilty won’t be broadcast.
“The Province has had two goals – timely justice and greater transparency to the justice system,” Attorney General Shirley Bond said in a statement. “If we must choose between the two, we will pursue timely justice. Accordingly, the direction issued to Crown counsel has been rescinded.”
The decision signifies the end of what opponents have called Riot TV.
Provincial Court Judge Malcolm MacLean dismissed the Crown’s broadcast application on Monday in the case of Ryan Dickinson, who pleaded guilty last month to participating in a riot and breach of recognizance. Two charges of mischief over $5,000 were dropped as a result of his plea deal.
“In view of the constraints, including the imminent sentencing of Mr. Dickinson, the lack of his consent, the lack of relevant and all necessary information, and the need for the assistance of amicus curiae, I am satisfied that proceeding further with the broadcast application in this particular case is not appropriate,” Judge MacLean said.
It was the lack of an amicus – a lawyer appointed to assist the court with issues that the parties wouldn’t otherwise address – that appeared to doom the application. Judge MacLean said the amicus would be needed to assess the effects of cameras on witnesses, and to provide assistance with technology and costs.
Ms. Clark vowed the morning after the June riot to expose those involved to the public gaze. In October, her government used the Throne Speech to call for public proceedings for anyone charged in connection with the violence.
“When it comes to the Stanley Cup riots, those guys had no problems doing their crimes quite in public with all kinds of people taking pictures and doing videos all around them,” Ms. Clark said after the Throne Speech. “So I think they should have no problem being tried in public either.”
The Premier has since tried to finesse her message, arguing she’s in favour of opening the courts up to the public, and cameras in the courts for riot cases is one piece of the puzzle. She has not clarified what the other pieces are.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson last week told The Globe and Mail he wouldn’t tune in if any of the court proceedings were broadcast. He ripped the applications as a “sideshow” standing in the way of prompt justice.
“You’ve got hundreds of people waiting to be served and I think it’s more important to do that than to have trials on TV,” he said, calling the pace of prosecutions “ridiculously slow.”
Greg DelBigio, Mr. Dickinson’s lawyer, had questioned whether the broadcast application in his client’s case was a result of political interference.
The judge went to great lengths to dispute that assertion.
“I would like to make something absolutely clear: I have not found that this application or any actions taken from the prosecution of this matter are politically motivated,” he said.
Leonard Krog, the opposition NDP’s justice critic, said it’s not surprising that a judge would try to stay away from political issues. Mr. Krog called the broadcast applications a waste of time in a court system that’s already overloaded.
“Premier 0, judge 1,” he said.
Vancouver police held a news conference on Monday to announce charge recommendations against 25 more people accused of participating in the rioting. The force has recommended charges against 125 people in all. In B.C., police must forward their recommendations to the Crown for approval. The Crown has laid charges against 47 people.