British Columbia

B.C. drops plan to televise Vancouver riot trials

The B.C. government is dropping its attempts to have trials in connection to the 2011 Vancouver riot televised, the provincial attorney general says.

'Taking a step back' to prevent delays, says Attorney General Shirley Bond

When Vancouver rioter Ryan Dickinson is sentenced, there will be no cameras in court 1:52

The B.C. government is backing off from its intention to televise trials for those charged in connection with last year’s Vancouver riot.

The announcement Monday evening follows a provincial court judge’s decision earlier in the day not to allow cameras in his courtroom during the sentencing of Ryan Dickinson.

Dickinson, 20, had pleaded guilty to taking part in the June 15 riot that caused millions of dollars damage in downtown Vancouver following the Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup series loss to the Boston Bruins.

"[Monday’s] decision by the Provincial Court does not decide the merits of all riot broadcast applications, but does raise additional questions," B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond said in a news release.

"The approach laid out by the judge in this decision is expected to consume more time than anticipated. That is why we are taking a step back to ensure that ongoing trials are not delayed."

Bond said the province has had two goals — "timely justice and greater transparency to the justice system."

"If we must choose between the two, we will pursue timely justice. Accordingly, the direction issued to Crown counsel has been rescinded," said Bond.

The B.C. government announced the TV initiative for the riot trials in a Throne Speech last October.

"The government ... has asked Crown Counsel to advocate for television and radio access to the courts during proceedings for those charged in relation to the Stanley Cup riot," said Lieut.-Gov. Steven Point.

Premier Christy Clark later defended the move while talking to reporters outside the legislature.

"When it comes to the Stanley Cup rioters, those guys had no problem doing their crimes in public with all kinds of people taking pictures and videos all around them and so I think that they should have no problem being tried in public," said Clark.

B.C. NDP Justice critic Leonard Krog said late Monday that he isn't surprised the government has abandoned the push to broadcast the trials.

"They went ahead with it in the first place, in my view, because Clark wanted to make political hay out of the genuine public outrage over the riot," said Krog. "She wanted to ride the wave of sentiment and purport to be tough on crime and make a committment that wasn't in her power to keep."

Many critics

The idea met resistance from its inception, both from the legislature Opposition and legal experts.

The presence of cameras could intimidate witnesses, some said.

As recently as last week, Provincial Court Judge Malcolm MacLean — who issue the pivotal ruling Monday — expressed reservations about  televised trials, saying not enough had been sorted out in terms of the technology, the costs and the safety of the court.

Provincial Court Judge Malcolm MacLean said Friday he had concerns about the technology, the costs, the safety of the court and the chilling effect the cameras may have on witnesses.

Maclean also cited concerns, not just about witnesses for the Crown, but about those testifying in support of the accused.

"I can imagine it's tough enough to get character witnesses without broadcast and rebroadcast," he told the court. "Is that not just a bit chilling on witnesses?"

Delays a major factor

The idea also had supporters outside of government, however.

Lawyer Dan Burnett, who has fought for years to allow more court proceedings to be televised on behalf of the CBC and other media organizations, said it was the right thing to do.

"Courts are supposed to be public and that sometimes means that it is a stressful thing to stand up as a witness, but we expect witnesses to do that and tell the truth," said Burnett.

The government has been openly criticized by lawyers and judges for delays in the B.C. justice system that are causing an increasing number of cases to be thrown out of court.

Maclean said Monday he did not see the ruling in the one case he was hearing to set a precedent for other judges.

But legal fights over TV cameras in every one of the hundreds of cases expected in connection with the Vancouver riot could  only worsen the clogged condition of B.C. courts.