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Vancouver police say they are not anticpating a repeat performance of last year's Stanley Cup riot. In this file photo a store front window is damaged along Robson Street in Vancouver after civil unrest following the NHL championship game. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The justice system is the main tool Canada has for curbing the mob behaviour seen in the Vancouver riot last spring, and putting television cameras in the courtroom during the riot trials (as proposed by the Crown) would make that tool more powerful and effective.

Who else can urban centres depend on to fight mass hooliganism? The police can't control 100,000 or more people raging through the streets. Shop owners can't defend their shops, and vigilantes can't (or at least shouldn't) patrol the streets. Internet shaming, using video or still photos, probably doesn't have much deterrent effect. The courts are the most important line of defence.

The Vancouver riot that followed the Stanley Cup final on June 15 was a peculiarly public crime, an attack on the notion of safe public spaces. Putting cameras in the courtroom would help the public reassert itself through its institutions, regain control of its city and defeat the mob. That is the notion of a public justice system. There is really nothing revolutionary about a TV camera. It enhances the public nature of the courts.

The riot was about anonymity, or at least an illusion of anonymity, granting individuals licence to destroy, apparently for fun. The TV cameras are about lifting the anonymity, about showing the mob as individuals, human after all, and each capable of judgment, each with an ability to understand right and wrong. (They are not really about shaming the guilty, though they may accomplish that.)

The decision on the TV cameras falls to the trial judges hearing the cases, beginning this Friday. Those judges should be wary of handing a veto to defendants, as set out in guidelines written by the B.C. Supreme Court for requests to allow TV cameras in court.

Guidelines are not rules. The B.C. guidelines say that "any witness, counsel or other participant" who objects to being identified or shown on TV "must not be recorded." It is hard to square that "must not" with age-old ideas of publicity being the soul of justice. TV cameras would help fulfill the promise of a public, fair-minded justice system with the power to discourage a repeat of the attack on Vancouver.