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In a democracy, court proceedings are public to ensure their fairness.
“Where there is no publicity there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying under trial.”
—Jeremy Bentham (~1790), as quoted by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (2012)
In the words of Justice Judy Sheindlin (“Judge Judy”), in support of cameras in every courtroom:
“Closed courtrooms only protect bad judges and lawyers…. They also protect bad institutions that serve those courts, such as social services…. [Cameras] should be there as the norm. If you have a specific exclusion, then you make it.”
Ontarians want to see their judges in action, want to see Crown attorneys make their arguments, want to see police witnesses testify under oath, and want to see the full court procedures. Likewise, litigants in family and civil courts, many of whom are self-represented litigants, want to know that they have the security of an actual open court. These self-represented litigants want to learn how the courts work, so they can better represent themselves. All citizens want to judge for themselves based on accessible video of what actually occurs in the courtroom. Media want reliable records that are adapted to modern communication methods, without being degraded by interpretation (into a tweet or scribbled notes) or reduced to a judge’s final reasons.
Citizens want to be empowered to decide for themselves if the courts are fair and if they can have confidence that justice is being done in their province. This is an age where everyone who has a cell phone has a video camera, and where storage is not an issue. It is reactionary to create a closed court by barring cameras. Ordinary folks do not have the luxury of attending court proceedings in person, and are prevented from doing so by a multitude of organizational and institutional barriers that are increasing.
- Ontario is the only Canadian jurisdiction having a statute that outlaws the use of cameras in courtrooms (s. 136, Courts of Justice Act)
- Increasing Ontario courthouse security systems make court attendance invasive and inconvenient for the public
- Members of the public and media are a priori barred from access to the Ontario court audio recordings, even though these readily exist
- Ontario does not even have a pilot program for camera access to trial courts (a tentative experiment in 1984 did not produce any report)
The letter below asks Ontario justice minister Madeleine Meilleur to endeavour to change Ontario’s laws to allow video cameras in all the courtrooms in Ontario. This would be in accordance with the open court principle (Dagenais test), where any limits to coverage must be necessary and imposed only to the extent necessary.
It is a matter of record that the main barrier against cameras in the courtroom has been judges and the Judicial Council. Another barrier is prosecutors who systematically oppose media requests for camera access. We ask Minister Meilleur to override these state sources of resistance. We adopt the words of Justice John Gomery who called the judicial resistance to cameras “judicial cowardice”.
The age of camera access to Ontario’s courts is overdue.
About the Ontario Civil Liberties Association
The Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) defends civil liberties at a time when fundamental freedoms are being eroded in all spheres of social life. OCLA opposes institutional policies and decisions that deprive individuals of their personal liberty or exclude individuals from participation in the democratic functions of society.
Please add your name to the letter below to justice minister Madeleine Meilleur.
LETTER to justice minister Madeleine Meilleur
Minister of Justice Madeleine Meilleur — Allow cameras in the Ontario courtrooms so that the public can see what’s going on.