Lights, camera … trial

Premier Christy Clark wants to televise the court cases of those charged in the Stanley Cup riots (if charges are ever laid).

Lights, camera ... trial

Premier Christy Clark wants to televise the court cases of those charged in the Stanley Cup riots (if charges are ever laid).

It would be a good idea if this didn’t stink so much of populist pandering on the part of the premier. Clark, much to our dismay, is getting more and more like Bill Vander Zalm all the time. He would often set policy during media scrums, which led to great goofiness in government and untold hardship on the civil service, who had to scramble to write policy to suit what popped into the premier’s head an hour before.

The argument here is simple, either cameras should be allowed in courtrooms or they shouldn’t. Period. For the premier to pick and choose which trials to televise, based on what she feels will feed the public’s appetite for vengeance and/or voyeurism, puts her in the same league as Nancy Grace … a zealot who harms the delivery of justice while professing to defend it.

It’s funny that Clark didn’t scream up and down that the Basi-Virk trial on the sale of BC Rail should be televised. If ever there was a trial in B.C. that should have been, that’s it.

Clark’s suggestion, though, does open the door for debate on whether cameras should be allowed in the courtroom.

Albeit small, I played a part in this debate several years ago.

We were covering an animal abuse trial in the Chilcotin. During the course of the trial it was suggested that a visit to the property where the animals had been kept would be beneficial to the trial. It would actually form part of the trial. In other words, this wasn’t just a few people taking a look at the property. The trial would adjourn and reconvene at the ranch. As the trial was public, the public could attend … just as any member of the public can sit in on a trial in a courthouse (unless the judge orders the courtroom closed, which is rare). That meant the media could tag along.

My question was: Can the newspaper then photograph the proceedings?

I checked with our lawyer who investigated and determined that the legislation banning cameras, when read literally, suggests it only applies to the physical structure of the actual courthouse. Since we would not be in the courthouse, a camera should be allowed.

Then came the tough part, at least for me. Our lawyer said the only way to find out is to put it to the judge directly and the only way to do that was, when the judge actually ruled that the court would visit the ranch, I was to jump up, interrupt the proceedings and ask the question.

Let me tell you, there was plenty of knee-knocking and sweaty palms that day as I sat in court waiting for the time to jump. I had visions of the judge tossing me in the hoosegow for interrupting his domain.

Nothing like that happened. Actually, the judge adjourned court and took a couple of days to rule on my request.

He agreed the literal interpretation indicated cameras were allowed, but also acknowledged that there was no precedent and that, since the visit would be on private property, there were privacy concerns. In the end he ruled that we could shoot one roll of film (it was back before digital days), the court would develop the film and black out anything it determined was prejudicial (the face of the accused). Plus the court would keep the film, which then became part of the court record.

It we are to allow cameras in courtrooms, it should be because it’s warranted and serves a greater good, not because the premier wants to make an example of someone.


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