A TV camera will be allowed into court Wednesday to hear the fate of Cassandra Knott, who is charged with the second-degree murder of her husband. In her trial last year, Knott pleaded not guilty because she said the 2011 stabbing was self-defence.
This will be the first time a camera has been allowed to broadcast a Manitoba criminal court proceeding. Up until now, hand-held cameras have not even been allowed in the building.
"While courts are open to the public, few members have the opportunity to attend those courts in person," justice officials said in a statement. "Most people rely on the media to tell them what happens. As a result, the media play an important role with regard to informing the public about the operation of the courts and the open-court principle."
A camera will also be allowed into the Court of Appeal on April 30 for the case of Denis Labossiere, who was found guilty of killing his parents and brother in 2005.
More details are expected when the province's chief judges hold a press conference to roll out the initiative Tuesday.
Attorney General Andrew Swan said televising a murder trial verdict may seem like an extreme place to start, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Only the judge will appear on camera so there is no security risk to witnesses or lawyers, he said.
"We want to make sure that people who show tremendous courage — witnesses, victims — that they're protected," he said. "We don't want people to be doubly victimized. We also want to make sure that Crown attorneys and, yes, even defence lawyers are safe in the work they do.
"We want people to have confidence in the justice system and I agree with the chief judges of our different levels of court that cameras in the courtroom can be a way to get there."
Cameras have long been allowed in U.S. courtrooms, but Canadian courts have been more reluctant.
Some argue allowing TV cameras would make the courts more transparent, but others worry cameras would have a chilling effect on witnesses and turn the halls of justice into "media circuses." While some provinces have allowed cameras into Appeal Court, it is unusual for cameras to be present for a verdict.
Manitoba justice officials have been grappling with the idea for years.
Ray Wyant, Manitoba's former chief judge, argued in 2009 that it was time to open up courts to cameras because "people have a right to know" what goes on.
"There is nothing secretive about what happens in court," he said back then. "Technology dominates our lives right now and yet it seems like one of the last bastions of our democratic process that isn't embracing technology in that sense is the court system."
The province's top judges struck a committee at the time to discuss the idea and make recommendations.
Allan Fineblit, CEO of Manitoba's law society and chairman of the committee, said the pilot project is a good first step. Allowing cameras in the courtroom will give people a better understanding of how the justice system works rather than hear only about sensational and unusual cases that tend to get a lot of press, he said.
In many cases, he said people may be surprised to find it more boring than what they are used to watching on TV.
"There is going to be far less drama," Fineblit said. "I think people will be surprised that, for the most part, what they see is what you would hope you would see — fairness, thoughtfulness and people considering all the pros and cons of every position."
Ontario started televising cases from its Court of Appeal in 2007. Provinces such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia allow cameras in some courtrooms with prior permission of the court.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, cameras are allowed into a courtroom up to the time the judge enters. In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld a Quebec court regulation that restricts cameras to designated areas of the courthouse.
Supreme Court of Canada proceedings are televised and dozens of Canadian public inquiries have been broadcast.