VANCOUVER - Worldwide audiences who watched whooping young men set cars ablaze and loot stores live on TV after Vancouver's Stanley Cup loss to Boston may soon be invited to tune in again, this time for the accused's public shamings in prime time.
The British Columbia government announced in its throne speech on Monday it will respectfully ask Crown prosecutors to push the courts to allow the broadcast of trials of suspected rioters.
But while the move could add positive momentum to growing efforts seeking more public access to the court system, critics say the sure-shot at hiking TV ratings is more likely aimed at boosting political standing.
Premier Christy Clark told reporters she wants the trials aired because the eruption of violence in downtown Vancouver on June 15 attacked British Columbians' sense of safety.
"Those guys had no problem doing their crimes quite in public, with all kinds of people taking pictures and video all around them," she said Monday. "So I think that they should have no problem being tried in public either.
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"If there is a place to start the discussion about whether or not cameras and audio in courtrooms is useful, I think this is the place."
Vancouver police have said they expect to eventually charge hundreds of people in relation to the roiling melee, although investigators are still building each case. An initial roster of 40 people are expected to be charged later this month, the force said.
The Supreme Court of Canada is the only court in the country that regularly broadcasts proceedings. Several other courts have allowed cameras on rare occasions with an application to the judge.
The common arguments against setting up cameras take aim at whether the presence of the electronic lens will dissuade witness participation, violate privacy or threaten the accused's safety.
The reverse line of thinking is that these trials are of great significance and interest to the public, many of whom might not have easy access to the otherwise public court proceedings. Televising them promotes open courts.
"But that doesn't seem to be the rationale that's being put forward for this request from the premier," said Vancouver-based criminal lawyer Eric Gottardi.
It just looks like Clark is trying to influence the courts over low-level offences that happen to ring bells with average, upset citizens, he said.
"There really doesn't seem to be a really clear reason for why these prosecutions should be given this level of attention from the government or special treatment in any way."
NDP Opposition critic Leonard Krog agreed the pursuit of transparency in justice is worthy, but said there's no justification for airing the riot trials as opposed to any other.
"You don't get to pick and choose based on your need to increase your political popularity," he said, adding the costs for the prosecutions would also rise.
But lawyer Dan Burnett, who represents several media outlets, said he's pleased with the decision and hopes the trials do go to air so they can serve as an example of the benefits of broadcasting the courts.
"Every time this comes up there's always the standard, 'Oh, lawyers will grandstand, oh, witnesses will be intimidated,"' he said.
"And those are arguments you need to deal with as to whether they actually materialize. And they tend not to. I think people need to see that."
The last major B.C. case where cameras were permitted was earlier this year, during the final arguments of the constitutional reference case looking at polygamy laws in Canada. Web-casting also took place.
Formal guidelines were created in B.C. in 2001 outlining when television cameras should be allowed into the courtrooms and what restrictions should be placed upon them.
There's been no details suggested yet as to how it would all roll out. In the past, some cases have featured time delays of live coverage while in others, witnesses could only be filmed after giving consent.
Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press
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