Thunder Bay

Lawyer praises Facebook attempt to fill gap in local court coverage

A Facebook page chronicling court proceedings in Thunder Bay, Ont., is drawing both applause and concern for its approach at citizen journalism.

Page of Thunder Bay, Ont., proceedings has reach of small paper, but not accountability, journalism prof says

Thunder Bay lawyer Chris Watkins said he appreciates the efforts of a volunteer to provide coverage of court proceedings. (Adam Burns/CBC)

A Facebook page chronicling court proceedings in Thunder Bay, Ont., is drawing both applause and concern for its approach at citizen journalism.

The Thunder Bay Courthouse - Inside Edition Facebook page regularly posts photos of court dockets and commentary on hearings.

Lakehead University law student Sherry Abotossaway said that at first, she thought the page would be a great resource for finding out what's happening at the local courthouse, but her opinion soon changed.

"I realized it was more about opinions than just giving the facts," she said. "It was more about vilifying people. That's when I realized it seemed very unprofessional and I was surprised because other people in [the legal profession] are viewing the site and have liked the site, but I don't believe they know this site is what it is."

Local lawyer Chris Watkins said he's familiar with the Facebook page and values the public discourse it has created.

"Without agreeing at all with any particular story or anything an individual has said, I like the general principle of the fact the community is involved in the justice system," said lawyer Chris Watkins.

"If nobody else is doing it and there is nobody there reporting, it kind of puts people in a position of fighting up the hill to complain about what's being reported by others who have chosen to do so on a volunteer basis," he said.

Covering the justice system is not an easy way for people to dive into citizen journalism, Lisa Taylor, a lawyer and journalism professor at Toronto's Ryerson University.

In a brief review of the page, Taylor noted a breach of a publication ban on a bail hearing and details on another case that could be in contempt of court.

"There are reasons that we teach law and ethics in journalism schools, because it's a dense area and the mistakes can carry a huge price ... for the individuals who find themselves brought into the court system," she said.

Abotossaway said she has noticed that Indigenous people are the most likely targets of the "vilification" she feels is happening on the page.

Thousands of followers

Lawyer Chris Watkins said he continues to encourage the person running the page to keep at it. Watkins said he only knows the person by the first name Brian. CBC News has been unable to verify the identity of the administrator of the page.

That's another reason for Taylor's concern.

"I have no idea if this is an individual who holds straightforward and perhaps even lofty ideals about citizen journalism or if its someone who has an axe to grind with one or more people in the court system," Taylor said.

The page has more than 6,000 followers, giving it a reach that is equivalent to a small community newspaper, Taylor said, but without the accountability of bylines and contact information so that readers can consider the source.

CBC News sent a request for an interview to the page's administrator.

Here's part of the response we received:

"I consider CBC as the equivalent of the Das Schwarze Koprs, Volkischer Beobachter and Der Angriff (all Nazi publications). I'm vehemently against National Socialism. It's not a credible news organization, in my opinion...My conscience won't allow me to participate in anything involving CBC."

The person who sent the response ignored our request for a name.