NEWS

Graham James Sentencing: Media Seeks To Broadcast From Inside Courtroom

03/16/2012 12:27 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT
CP
WINNIPEG - A Manitoba judge will decide Monday whether disgraced former hockey coach Graham James will be sentenced on sex abuse charges under the gaze of live television cameras.

If provincial court judge Catherine Carlson says yes, Canadians will get their first real look in more than a decade at James, who has so far managed to hide his face from cameras on the street and outside court.

That's one reason why four media outlets are pushing for the rare right to televise proceedings.

"The public has a right to know who has been convicted and what they look like ... so the public can know and protect themselves," Bob Sokalski told the court Friday.

Sokalski represents four media outlets: CTV, CBC, Global Television and the Winnipeg Free Press. They have asked the court's permission to videotape and broadcast James's sentencing on Tuesday. They want to have two stationary cameras installed in the room to record James, the lawyers and the judge.

James has pleaded guilty to repeated sexual assaults on two former junior players — Theo Fleury and Todd Holt — when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and '90s.

The Crown is seeking a six-year prison sentence. The defence is asking for a conditional sentence with no jail time.

Sokalski told Carlson that cameras in court are a natural extension of an open, public judicial system. The case is especially in need of television coverage because James has worked and lived in other jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan and Quebec, he said.

"Large numbers of people ... have a vested interest in the matter that has come before the court," he said.

James's defence team opposes the idea. They say broadcasting his image could put him in harm's way, because he has received threats.

His lawyer, Evan Roitenberg, said RCMP have told him someone has written a letter threatening to kill James.

"The threat was real, substantial and quite deadly," Roitenberg said. "Mr. James has taken pains to shield his identity. Why? Because of security."

Roitenberg also said banning cameras from the courtroom is a long-standing practice, and the onus is on Sokalski to show why that should change.

Heather Leonoff, a lawyer for the Manitoba government, told court the cameras could prove a threat to the safety of sheriff's officers, clerks and judges. People upset with court decisions could take it out on judges or attorneys when they are out in public, she said.

Leonoff also said the presence of cameras would not do anything to educate the public about the justice system, and would instead be "complete voyeurism".

Sokalski said James has no inherent right to protection from cameras. Victims' identities are often covered by publication bans but convicted sex offenders are not.

"The public is regularly warned about the release of sexual offenders," he said.

A rising star in the junior hockey world, James first gained infamy when he pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexual abusing Sheldon Kennedy.

He served about 18 months of a 3 1/2 year-sentence before he got out of jail in 2000 and dropped out of public view.