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Media seeks to broadcast former coach Graham James's sentencing on sex charges

Graham James walks out of a building connected to the Law Courts following his sentencing hearing in Winnipeg, Wednesday, February 22, 2012.


Canadians deserve to get a good look, via live television coverage, at convicted sex offender Graham James, a media lawyer said Friday.

"The public has a right to know who has been convicted and what they look like ... so the public can know and protect themselves," Bob Sokalski told provincial court.

Sokalski represents four media outlets: CTV, CBC, Global Television and the Winnipeg Free Press.

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They are asking the court's permission to videotape and broadcast James's sentencing on Tuesday. They want to have two stationary cameras installed in the room to record James, the lawyers and judge Catherine Carlson.

James has pleaded guilty to repeated sexual assaults on two former junior players — Theo Fleury and Todd Holt — when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and '90s.

The Crown is seeking a six-year prison sentence. The defence is asking for a conditional sentence with no jail time.

Sokalski told Carlson Friday that cameras in court are a natural extension of an open, public judicial system. The James case is especially in need of television coverage because James has worked and lived in other jurisdictions such as Mexico, he said.

"Large numbers of people ... have a vested interest in the matter that has come before the court," he said.

James's defence team opposes the idea. They say broadcasting his image could put him in harm's way, because he has received threats.

His lawyer, Evan Roitenberg, said RCMP have told him someone has written a letter threatening to kill James.

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"The threat was real, substantial and quite deadly," Roitenberg said. "Mr. James has taken pains to shield his identity. Why? Because of security."

Roitenberg also said banning cameras from the courtroom is a long-standing practice, and the onus is on Sokalski to show why that should change.

Heather Leonoff, a lawyer for the Manitoba government, told court the cameras could prove a threat to the safety of sheriff's officers, clerks and judges.

The idea of allowing cameras inside the court requires more time to consider, she said. Hearing the issue just days before sentencing is "not appropriate".

Sokalski said James has no inherent right to protection from cameras. Victims' identities are often covered by publication bans but convicted sex offenders are not.

"The public is regularly warned about the release of sexual offenders," he said.

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