SPORTS

No cameras for Graham James sentencing; judge doesn't want case to be spectacle

03/19/2012 10:51 EDT | Updated 05/19/2012 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - A Manitoba judge says allowing cameras to broadcast the sentencing of disgraced former hockey coach Graham James for sexual abuse would turn the highly charged case into a spectacle and could violate the sex offender's privacy.

Judge Catherine Carlson denied an application Monday by a media consortium to set up two live TV cameras in the Winnipeg courtroom where James will learn his fate Tuesday.

"This case is highly charged enough. It's not going to become a spectacle," Carlson said in her ruling. "This is, first and foremost, a sexual assault case and, in particular, a case of sexual assaults committed against persons under the age of 18."

James pleaded guilty in December 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. Fleury would go on to star in the National Hockey League with the Calgary Flames.

The decision to deny televised coverage of what happens in the courtroom means the wider public won't get a chance to see James — or his reaction to his sentence — since he has managed to hide his face whenever he has been out in the open.

The media consortium had argued on Friday that people have a right to know what James looks like so they can protect themselves. CTV, CBC, Global and the Winnipeg Free Press wanted to have two stationary cameras installed in the room to record James, the lawyers and the judge.

Evan Roitenberg, James's lawyer, argued that broadcasting his client's image would violate his privacy and could pose a serious threat to his safety. He said James had received credible death threats and would have difficulty reintegrating into society if his image were widely broadcast.

Carlson said she shared some of those privacy concerns.

"Once images are broadcast on the Internet, they are there in perpetuity," she said. "Without having to decide what, if any, privacy rights Mr. James has or does not have in a courtroom, I can certainly say I have the same concerns about his images from the courtroom being broadcast on the Internet with no controls."

Although both of James's victims have chosen to be named, the judge said she also has a duty to protect them from the glare of publicity and its aftermath while they are in her courtroom.

Details of the sexual acts between James and his victims will be included in the reasons for his sentence, Carlson said.

"This could be extremely embarrassing for the victims since portions of the reasons being read, perhaps the sexually explicit portions, could show up on the Internet any time linked with other material that is out of control of the applicants, out of control of the victims and out of control of the court," she said.

"The court cannot sanction anything that could result in any type of revictimization."

The prospect of having cameras in the courtroom in a sexual assault case could also deter other victims from coming forward, Carlson suggested.

"Indeed, it took Mr. Fleury and Mr. Holt many years to make the decision to disclose the offences that Mr. James committed against them," she said. "If victims have to worry there may be a camera anywhere near the court proceedings, it is reasonable to expect they may not come forward. That would certainly impede the interests of the administration of justice."

Carlson acknowledged there is a high degree of interest in the James case across the country and many people who may wish to see him sentenced can't possibly be in the courtroom. But her written decision will be available almost immediately electronically, she said.

Even those in the courtroom won't be able to see James's expression when the sentence is read since he will have his back to the public gallery, she noted.

"In the end, there are just too many concerns I have that the interests of the fair administration of justice and the dignity and integrity of the court could be compromised by a broadcasted sentencing."

The Crown is seeking six years in prison for James, while the defence is asking for a conditional sentence of up to 18 months with no jail time.

The media, represented by lawyer Bob Sokalski, had argued that cameras in court are a natural extension of an open, public judicial system. Sokalski suggested the case was especially in need of television coverage because James has worked and lived in other jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan and Quebec.

The defence was not alone opposing the idea because of fears James could be put in jeopardy. The province, too, said cameras could threaten the safety of sheriff's officers, clerks and judges.

A rising star in the junior hockey world, James first gained infamy when he pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually abusing Sheldon Kennedy, who would also go on to play in the NHL.

James 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.

Carlson's ruling comes after a British Columbia judge denied an application for cameras to televise the sentencing hearing for the first person to plead guilty in Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot. That ruling prompted the provincial government to back off its pledge to allow cameras in the courts.

It also comes five years after Manitoba's NDP government said "time had come" to allow cameras on provincial courtrooms. Conservative critic Kelvin Goertzen said it was odd the province's own lawyer argued against television access given the NDP's apparent support for the idea.

"The ability to allow cameras into the courts for certain cases would bring both transparency and a better understanding of the courts to the public," Goertzen said in a statement. "It is a step that is long overdue, but it will not happen without leadership from the office of the attorney general."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said James pleaded guilty last month.

MORE:cpSports