Canadian Lawyer

April 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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4 UPFRONT NEWS ANALYSIS BEFORE THE pandemic, media advocates argued that cameras in the courts would improve the public understanding of the justice system. With Zoom trials now the norm, cameras have entered virtually every courtroom. While this is seen as a positive development for open court advocates, many say that new challenges in covering the courts remain in this uncharted territory. Some high-profile trials that have taken place over Zoom have been lauded as a success. The trial of Alek Minassian, who pled not criminally responsible for killing 10 people when he deliberately hit pedestrians with his van along a busy stretch of Yonge Street two years ago, is a recent example. "I actually think [it] was a real success story," says Alyshah Hasham, who reported on the trial in late 2020. "For virtual access, I think it worked extremely well." Hasham, who is the courts and justice reporter at the Toronto Star, says virtual trials still present many logistical challenges for reporters. Attending Zoom trials can be much more convenient than having to fit into a packed courtroom, but determining what virtual trials are happening and accessing login details can be a real challenge since there is no centralized docket. "Normally, you would just go down to the courthouse and pop in. But now you have to send an email and hope that somebody reads it and gets back to you and they give you the link in time for you to access the hearing." The Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, where many of the high-profile trials such as R. v. Minassian take place, says the court continues to expand the hearing informa- tion available to those interested in observing proceedings. "Our challenge has been technological," the office of the chief justice of Superior Court of Justice told Canadian Lawyer in an email. "With the court's current case inventory system, we do not have the ability to auto- matically generate Zoom co-ordinates for every hearing. We are working on a solution with the Ministry of the Attorney General that will enable us to provide Zoom co-ordinates for certain court proceedings to the media." As for access to the public, the office of the chief justice pointed to several counter- vailing considerations, such as a potential for "inappropriate interference," as well as privacy concerns in, for example, family cases involving children and civil and criminal trials involving victim testimony. "Section 136 of the Courts of Justice Act makes it an offence to record and publish a court proceeding," wrote the office of the chief "We are all learning, [but] it's a situation where I think we're moving much more toward open public access to all court proceedings." John Struthers, Criminal Lawyers' Association Cameras in every court While Zoom trials theoretically allow easy access to the public and media, practical limitations mean open courts are still far from reality, writes Tim Wilbur

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