RiotTV: a political stunt

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This week, British Columbia’s Attorney General, Shirley Bond, announced that the government would abandon the direction it gave to Crown prosecutors to make Applications to televise the legal proceedings of those accused of crimes relating to Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot. The government appears to have had this change of heart after it’s first Application was dismissed against Mr. Ryan Dickenson – who is the first person being sentenced in in relation to the riot. The judge felt that the Crown did not provide enough information to support the Application – namely the cost associated with televising these legal proceedings.

I really could go on & on about how inappropriate I felt these “RiotTV” applications were in the first place. I am a firm believer that cameras have no purpose in our courtrooms. Of course, there is the reasonable argument of transparency and that having cameras would better educate people on how the justice system functions. But to those people I say walk down to your local courthouse, read case law, order transcripts of court proceedings, if you’re so inclined. The risks of having cameras in courtrooms, in my opinion, far outweigh the benefits. A criminal trial is a ‘truth-seeking’ exercise. Witnesses may be hesitant to give full accounts of their evidence if they know the world is watching them. Lawyers may tailor their questioning of witnesses for the same reasons. Judges may be reluctant to decide a case in a certain way if it is deemed to be unpopular with the public. Prosecutors worry about their personal safety. In fact, all participants in a criminal trial worry about their personal safety. No one wants their face frozen in time on YouTube – and in this day and age, that is what happens. I see what happens on TV in American courtrooms and I do not want Canada’s justice system to go there.

But why did Premier Christy Clark demand that these particular offenders be put on TV? She said something along the lines of “well they committed their crimes on camera, therefore they should have no problem being dealt with by the courts while on camera”.

The logic in that is ridiculous. I have had dozens of clients who’s criminal acts have been captured on CCTV cameras – for murder, break & enter, sexual assault, DUI’s and drug offences. Crimes, which I argue, are far worse than some of my clients who stand charged in relation to Vancouver’s riot.

So why didn’t the government seek to televise these other crimes caught on camera? Because there was nothing to be gained politically from doing so.

The fact of the matter is this: June 15, 2011 was an awful day in Vancouver’s history and the government tried to gain politically from what happened that day. In doing so, they tried to interfere with the justice system’s independence. This ultimately blew up in their face. The BC Liberals are quite out of touch with the ailing state of our justice system – and it is largely due to the financial cutbacks they imposed over the last decade. Legal Aid is seriously reduced for those who need legal representation. We need more judges. We need more sheriffs. The system is in crisis.

RiotTV was nothing more than a political stunt. I accept that being “tough on crime” is attractive to voters – but the manner in which the government tried to appear tough on crime was only intended as a diversion from the real problems our justice system is facing. I think the public saw through the political stunt from the beginning – and the public will remember this when the next provincial election is called.

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