Monday, May 4, 2009

Media argues for court cameras at Ottawa mayor's corruption trial

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien pleaded not guilty to charges of influence peddling. But on the first day of his trial lawyers argued an application brought by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation to allow cameras in the courtroom, as in the British court shown at left, to stream audio and video of their proceedings to a website.

O'Brien faces two criminal charges over allegations he offered to help former mayoral candidate Terry Kilrea get a job with the National Parole Board in exchange for dropping out of the 2006 mayoralty race that O'Brien eventually won.

The CBC formally brought the application to let cameras into the court only last week, and both O'Brien's defence and the Crown say that was too late.

CBC lawyer Daniel Henry told the court Monday that his clients are in "practical compliance" on rules requiring notice.

"The best time to make an application of this nature is right before," he said. That way the judge is familiar with the issues at hand and lawyers have all interviewed their witnesses. Hearing the application as the trial begins saves everyone time and money, he said.

But Crown prosecutor Scott Hutchison called the CBC application a "very hasty process," and said court rules clearly require 30 days notice. He also said the constitutional issues the application raises would require advance notice be served on the lawyers for the federal and provincial governments.

The issue in question is no small one, Hutchison said.

"It raises important issues for the administration of justice generally," he said. If the court agreed to let cameras in this case, it would effectively open every criminal court proceeding to cameras.

"That, with respect, is not a minimal bit of tinkering. That is a sea change in the law."

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