In a historic decision, Manitoba provincial court judge Brent Stewart has granted media permission to broadcast audio recorded during an inquest into the deaths of two Stony Mountain inmates.
CBC Manitoba's managing editor, Cecil Rosner, welcomes the move. He believes it's the first time in Manitoba that journalists can broadcast audio recorded during a court proceeding that includes witness testimony.
"Allowing media to broadcast audio from the inquest is a big step forward in helping us report on the courts more effectively," said Rosner.
The decision is in line with other efforts to increase the openness of Manitoba's justice system, the judge wrote in his Jan. 28 decision.
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In late-January, CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV Winnipeg applied as a group for permission to record and broadcast audio and video during the inquest into the deaths of Durval David Tavares and Sheldon Anthony McKay.
Judge Stewart denied their request for video recordings due to the particulars of this case, which includes security concern of prison officials and others. The deaths of Tavares in 2005 and McKay in 2006 are linked to violent gangs, according to the decision.
"We're pleased Judge Stewart sees the value in principle of allowing cameras into inquests. Even though there are specific security concerns in this case, we look forward to having cameras present at other inquests in the future," said Rosner.
Witnesses, lawyers feared for their safety
Crown attorneys and correctional staff opposed the idea of cameras in the courtroom over privacy and security fears. Judge Stewart said he took those concerns seriously.
"All of those parties are concerned about the personal safety of the participants of the hearing should their faces be televised," he wrote in his decision.
"These fears arise as a result of the fact that the deaths being inquired into relate to once prominent gang leaders of two violent street gangs located and operating in Manitoba then and now," wrote Judge Stewart.
In the future, he said, applications to allow cameras and audio recordings can be made on a case by case basis.
The inquest into the deaths of Tavares and McKay was scheduled for Jan. 28 and Jan. 29. It has since been postponed to a later date.