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Riot police in Vancouver June 15, 2011. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Riot police in Vancouver June 15, 2011. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Riot TV: When do cameras belong in court? Add to ...

“Speaking personally, because I can’t tell judges what to do, I can see a role for television in opening statements, in closing statements, possibly with the approval of an accused person in a bail application,” he said. “I can see it on the civil side, in important constitutional cases, perhaps the whole thing being televised because there aren’t these privacy issues involved and it’s more like the Supreme Court of Canada. I think there’s lots of room to advance the cause for cameras in the courtroom.”

If you broadcast it, will they watch?

For all the debate about cameras in courtrooms, the lingering question is whether people will actually tune in. The statistics from last year’s polygamy reference case say yes – at least at first.

The first day that closing submissions were streamed online, Monday, March 28, B.C. Supreme Court said 2,616 people watched at least part of the proceedings. That number dipped to 2,308 a day later.

By the next Monday, the total dropped significantly, to 1,177. On April 11, the number of visitors was down to 597. On April 15, the final day of submissions, just 384 people tuned in.

“People want their news in bits and pieces quickly … so we shouldn’t be surprised that the numbers weren’t great,” says Chief Justice Robert Bauman. “But if you’re talking about an open court, that’s what an open court is. There it is, people. Watch the whole stream, tune in when you like.”

The riot cases would likely draw more viewers than the constitutional reference. The riot had a significant online presence, with websites appearing almost instantly to identify those involved and organize a clean-up.

But Leonard Krog, the NDP’s justice critic, says he hasn’t heard people clamouring for televised proceedings.

“I must tell you, I’m now in my 11th year as an MLA, and people have not been beating down my doors to have trials publicized,” he said. “They beat down my doors about lenient sentencing, about the slow court system. They don’t beat down my doors around the issue of whether or not criminal trials are televised.”

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