Overruling objections from its criminal-justice branch, the B.C. government is ordering Crown prosecutors to push for television and radio broadcasts of any trial related to the Stanley Cup riots.
The chief judge of British Columbia’s provincial court has declined to render his own verdict on that move, saying he will leave it to his judges to decide how to handle that unprecedented order.
On Tuesday, Attorney-General Shirley Bond confirmed she received protests from the criminal-justice branch but will go ahead with her order for televised trials.
In response, Thomas Crabtree, chief judge of the provincial courts, said his judges will rule on whether to allow cameras in the courtroom.
“The question of whether or not proceedings should be televised or broadcast is a matter within the discretion of the presiding judge hearing the application made by a party to the proceedings, after hearing from all interested parties, and considering the circumstances of the case,” Judge Crabtree said in a statement.
The court’s written policy is for judges to allow such access as long as it is in the public interest and passes a threshold of concerns that include not affecting fair-trial rights, causing discomfort to witnesses, deterring witnesses or causing expense to the courts.
However, it has been extremely rare for B.C. courts to allow such broadcast access. Most media requests are denied.
No charges have been laid so far as a result of the June 15 riot following the Boston Bruins’s defeat of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, but Vancouver police say they are close to doing so.
Initial appearances and proceedings will likely occur in the provincial courts.
“Certainly the criminal justice branch has made their view known but in fact we will be directing the criminal justice branch to move forward, for the prosecutor who takes those cases forward to make application for the use of cameras in courtrooms,” Ms. Bond told reporters at the legislature.
Ms. Bond, who is also the solicitor general, rejected suggestions that televising the proceedings might lead to “public shaming” of the accused. “There is a public interest in ensuring this is a transparent, open process,” she said.
Neil MacKenzie, a spokesman for the criminal justice branch, said they would comply with Ms. Bond’s order.
“The branch respects the decision of the attorney general to issue a directive. When we receive a directive from the attorney general, we comply with that directive,” he said.
Accredited journalists in British Columbia have long been allowed to bring audio-recording devices into courtrooms to record material for reference in their reporting, but not for any form of broadcast.
The B.C. government’s interest has been focused on riot trials, but a veteran media lawyer said the unexpected outcome of this situation could be to make a convincing case for ongoing access to other trials.
“It’s the kind of things that is rare enough in Canada that every time it happens, it helps pave the way for more of it,” Daniel Burnett said.
Premier Christy Clark said Tuesday she understood not all lawyers agree with this directive, first disclosed in this week’s throne speech, but that the public will support it.
“British Columbians want to see justice be done. Courtrooms in this province have always been open to the public but we live in a new world now and you should be able to observe court proceedings, particularly in a case like this without having to attend the court yourself.”
In Question Period, NDP justice critic Leonard Krog decried the launch of so-called “Riot TV” and urged the province to provide proper resources to the courts instead.
Mr. Krog later told reporters Ms. Bond is “dangerously close” to political interference with her riot directives.