Media outlets want cameras at Graham James sentencing

The CBC and three other media outlets are asking a Winnipeg judge to allow cameras at the sentencing of Graham James, the former junior hockey coach and convicted sex offender.

Ex-hockey coach who sexually abused players will be sentenced Tuesday

The CBC and three other media outlets are asking a Winnipeg judge to allow cameras at the sentencing of Graham James, the former junior hockey coach and convicted sex offender.

Lawyers and officials with the CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press, CTV and Global appeared before provincial Judge Catherine Carlson on Friday to make their case.

Media lawyer Bob Sokalski told Carlson that having cameras in the court is a way to allow the public to see what happens.

People across Canada have a vested interest in watching the proceeding, he said.

James is set to be sentenced on two counts of sexual assault next Tuesday.

Cameras have never been allowed inside Manitoba courtrooms.

James pleaded guilty in December to sexually assaulting former NHL star Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt, Fleury's younger cousin, while coaching them in the junior hockey ranks during the 1980s and early '90s.

National attention

James previously served time behind bars in the late-1990s for sexually assaulting Sheldon Kennedy, another former NHLer, and two other young players.

The Crown is seeking a six-year prison term on James's latest charges. The defence wants a conditional sentence with no jail time. The conditional sentence, of 12 to 18 months, would include a curfew, monitoring and counselling.

Cameras were not allowed inside Carlson's courtroom when the lawyers presented arguments for James's sentence on Feb. 22.

Cecil Rosner, managing editor at CBC Manitoba, said the case has drawn national and international attention because James's victims include former NHL players.

"In this particular matter, many people across the country have had contact with the accused and will be directly interested in the sentencing proceedings, but they have no practical ability to attend court," Rosner stated in his affidavit to the court.

Rosner added that James's case "touches on matters of profound interest to the public," such as the safety of youth and the way in which the justice system deals with sexual offenders.

Security concerns cited

But James's lawyers and Manitoba's attorney general do not want the cameras and other recording devices in court, citing security concerns.

"I am advised by Graham James, and do verily believe, that he genuinely fears for his safety if pictures of him or reproductions of his image are widely disseminated through TV, print media or the internet," states an affidavit from Vanessa Lee Gama, a member of James's legal team.

Gama said James has received "many direct threats both to his personal safety and his life" since the allegations against him were made public.

The provincial government says it is concerned about the safety of justice officials who may be photographed and videotaped in court.

"Television and internet coverage greatly expands exposure and increases the risk of invasions of privacy and acts of violence," the province's affidavit states in part.

"Moreover, the more newsworthy a case the more likely it is to trigger strong emotions in the public and thus put justice participants at greater risk."

The province adds that cameras in court would add little to the legal proceedings, since Carlson's reasons for sentencing will be made public in the form of a written decision.

Sokalski argued there is no legitimate basis for a convicted person to ask for what amounts to being a publication ban on his identity, and that any threats James has received happened without any cameras being in a courtroom.

Any animosity toward James has been caused by the offences to which he has pleaded guilty, Sokalski said.

Sokalski also noted paragraphs in previous court decisions that outline how there is no right to privacy in court except for sex assault victims and jurors, and how TV journalists are handicapped to cover court cases compared with radio and newspaper journalists.

He has also outlined how concerns over cameras impacting fairness don't apply since this is a sentencing, not a trial.