Putting television cameras in the courtrooms for the Vancouver riot trials when they happen, as proposed by British Columbia Attorney General Shirley Bond, is an inspired idea. The trials will make a wonderful testing ground for a form of openness common in the courts of the United States.
Why these trials? Because there was not one mob but two that threatened Vancouver in June, and both need to see justice done. The first mob was the one that looted and burned and assaulted in the downtown streets after the final Stanley Cup game on June 15. The second was the one that made threats over the Internet to those they believed were involved in the first mob.
The biggest potential benefit – for those in the first mob and anyone tempted to join one like it some day – is that of deterrence. That is absolutely consonant with the justice system’s chief purpose – the maintenance of a lawful society. It may also show those in the second mob that vigilante action is not necessary.
The main argument against televised trials cited by Vancouver defence lawyer Eric Gottardi is intimidation or discomfort of witnesses, either for the Crown or defence. It’s hard enough to testify in open court, he says; it will be that much harder on television. University of Toronto law professor Ed Morgan offers another argument: the public stigma will be a penalty much larger than the penalties given out for the offences. “It seems to be an attempt to tie the drama of the riot into the trial,” Prof. Morgan says.
The TV cameras don’t create that drama, or the stigma, either; it’s the public’s desire for justice, and abhorrence of mob behaviour, that does that.
Sexual assault complainants should continue to have their identities shielded, as should those charged as youths, and probably youth witnesses. Voices can be altered, faces can be blurred. A fixed camera can stay clear of jurors’ faces. Television cameras have been the norm in public hearings in Canada – even for highly sensitive ones, like the 1989 hearings on abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage. And a television camera was allowed into the B.C. Supreme Court hearings on polygamy in Bountiful.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said there is a “presumption” of openness. Supreme Court hearings have been routinely televised since 1993. Assuming charges will some day be laid in the riots (none has been, yet), the courts should stick with the presumption, which predates television by centuries.Report Typo/Error
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