When it comes to openness in the justice system, this province is out in front
Former hockey coach Graham James tries to avoid cameras as he arrives at court in Winnipeg Tuesday to be sentenced for sexually abusing two of his former players. — Photo by John Woods/The Canadian Press
Part 1 in a two-part series
“The open court is a key component of our free and democratic society.”
— Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Judge William Goodridge
Sex offender Graham James, the lower half of his face obscured by red cloth, tried to block photographers from taking his picture before his sentencing in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
With his bushy eyebrows and closely shorn head, his half-hidden face and his hand raised to shield himself from the lens, he looked more menacing than he might have had he simply walked into the courtroom without disguise.
In sharp contrast to his victims — the men he sexually assaulted when they were children — he has tried to hide from public view. They, on the other hand, have bravely come forward, stepping up for microphones and cameras and making public statements.
Thanks to a court decision on Monday, there are no photos or video of James’ appearance in court to learn his fate — two years in jail for repeatedly sexually assaulting two boys who should have been able to trust him.
The Crown had asked for six years and is considering an appeal.
There are no photos because Manitoba, as a rule, doesn’t allow cameras in the courtroom. While reporters can cover cases, they can’t take photos in court of the accused, the judge or the lawyers.
And it’s not just Manitoba, it’s most Canadian provinces.
In the case of the murder of Victoria Stafford being tried in London, Ont., for example, broadcasters can air video of convicted murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic’s interrogation by police, but when it comes to seeing pictures from her co-accused’s trial, all we get are courtroom sketches.
No cameras — period.
Newfoundland and Labrador is more progressive than most provinces in this regard. Here, journalists are allowed to gather photos and video of the judge, lawyers and the accused before the court is called to order. They can also photograph and videotape evidence exhibits, once they are on the record. And that’s been the situation for roughly 20 years.
As the associate chief judge of provincial court, Robert Hyslop, once noted at a trial where the accused didn’t want cameras in the court, we should be thankful we live in a place where justice isn’t served up behind closed doors, out of the public eye.
In the Graham James case, a consortium of media outlets had appealed to Winnipeg provincial court to let cameras in for his sentencing, arguing that the case “has drawn extraordinary attention across Canada and beyond” given James’ prominence and the fact that he victimized boys in multiple provinces.
They also argued that, since the Crown has deemed the 59-year-old sexual predator as being at high risk to reoffend, people have a right to know what he looks like in order to protect themselves.
“The case also touches on matters of profound interest to the public: safety of vulnerable youth, the integrity of the coaching system in Canada, and the manner in which the justice system and the courts deal with sexual offenders,” they argued in their court application.
The media outlets asked for “‘electronic public access’ to these proceedings, by streaming the proceedings live on the Internet, and through radio, television and Internet-based news services, for any member of the public to see and hear what they would be entitled to witness if they were able to attend the courtroom in person.”
Canada often touts its open justice system — one where any member of the public can watch a trial unfold.
And the media prides itself on being the “eyes and ears of the public” in court, recognizing that not all of us have time or opportunity to attend court in person to watch justice play out.
The media consortium argued that “camera access for live and recorded broadcasts is in the interests of justice,” adding that, “For the media to discharge their role properly, television and online reporters must have the means to do so accurately.”
It also contended that “The Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) provides the basis for camera access to enable the public to exercise their rights.”
Compelling arguments, but Judge Catherine Carlson rejected them all.
Not ‘the right case’
That was a letdown for Bob Sokalski, the lawyer who represented the Winnipeg Free Press, the CBC, Bell Media and Shaw Television.
“There is no doubt that I was extremely disappointed in the ultimate decision to deny camera access in this case,” he wrote to The Telegram via email.
He said Carlson noted that “camera access to the court process ‘may be a good idea in the right case.’ Unfortunately, however, she followed that statement by saying that this case was not ‘the right case.’”
The Canadian Press (CP) reported Monday that Carlson said having cameras in the courts could turn the sentencing into “spectacle,” and could violate the privacy of James and his victims — even though James’ name is widely known and his victims have identified themselves publicly.
“If victims have to worry there may be a camera anywhere near the court proceedings,” Carlson was quoted as saying, “it is reasonable to expect they may not come forward.”
I disagree. Any adult who comes forward with an allegation of impropriety knows the court is open to the public. Anyone in town can show up and listen in on the proceedings.
And the media is prevented by law from revealing the identity of children and sexual assault victims, in some cases even if the sexual assault victim is an adult who wants to be publicly identified.
Does the media always get it right? Of course not. But I can’t think of a single court case in this province where cameras in the courtroom impeded the delivery of justice.
Perhaps it’s time other provinces followed our lead.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor.
She can be reached by email at
Next week: Is there a better way?