Reporter's Notebook

How CBC News obtained the dashcam footage

How do news agencies get police video from the courts? Sometimes it can be a long process. The CBC's Janice Johnston talks about her struggle to get the dashcam footage from Simona Tibu's arrest.

A lengthy legal battle and an appeal led to release of arrest video

Simona Tibu alleges that she was the real victim during a traffic stop in the summer of 2013. She has been charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer 10:16

The human drama inside a courtroom can be riveting, heartbreaking and more compelling than any reality television show.

But sometimes the evidence of that drama – evidence that a judge has seen and heard – is off-limits to the general public, either for legal reasons or some procedural consideration.  

As a reporter, I've stood up countless times in court and asked a judge for permission to access exhibits so CBC News can air an audio recording, videotape or photo.

That is what I did last October in a Camrose courtroom during an assault trial.

Dentist Simona Tibu is accused of assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest.

She claims she is the victim in this case — that the sheriff is the one who assaulted her.

On day one, Tibu's lawyer asked the judge to stay the charges. So the case entered what's called a voir dire: a trial within a trial.

Provincial court judge Gordon Yake is reviewing the evidence and he'll decide if Tibu should still be tried on those counts.

The key piece of evidence is a videotape recorded by the sheriff's dashboard camera.

I asked Judge Yake if he would release the exhibit to CBC News.

At the end of day one, he had this response:

"Now from my perspective, we are in the middle of a voir dire. That exhibit, as you have seen, is a key piece of evidence in that voir dire.

"So at this point in time I am not prepared to release that exhibit, we are using it, but I expect that at the conclusion of the voir dire, if that DVD becomes an exhibit in the trial proper, it would then be releasable upon your application."

I consulted with CBC's lawyer after that first ruling. The next day we submitted a letter to the judge, citing the open court principle and Supreme Court rulings on matters like this.   

That letter was presented to Judge Yake on the second day of the voir dire.

At the end of the day, I tried once again to get access to the videotape.

Here is a portion of the transcript:

"I will not tolerate further interruptions from anybody in this courtroom ... Now, I appreciate the fact that you have a desire to have an exhibit released to the CBC.

I have ruled on that. If you wish to bring, or the CBC wishes to bring an application to this court ... a formal application must be filed on notice to the court.

"I suggest that legal counsel be retained to act for the CBC. I will not tolerate further delay of this proceeding with ad hoc interruptions for ad hoc applications.

Now I hope that is clear."

The voir dire will resume next week in Camrose. I did not want to wait that long to see if CBC could share that videotape.

Our only option was to go to a higher court and appeal Judge Yake's ruling.

A Court of Queen's Bench justice heard the case in December.

She issued a decision in our favour, ruling the judge erred in requiring CBC to file an application and retain legal counsel, and failed to consider the binding authority of the Supreme Court in dealing with the open court principle.

Justice Doreen Sulyma directed the provincial court to provide a copy of the videotape to CBC.

Now we are at last able to share it with you.

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