Blatchford on the G17 media ban

In a Globe and Mail column,
Christie Blatchford writes about Canada’s “increasingly opaque” justice
system and the publication ban on the G17, the group of people charged
with more serious offences during the G20.

The 17 are facing charges of conspiracy to assault police, conspiracy to obstruct police and conspiracy to commit mischief.

Blatchford writes about her experience at the Toronto court:

“In the fashion that is becoming the norm in Ontario – keeping the public and press as far away from the proceedings as possible – the accused conspirators were led to what looked like a row of old-fashioned glass phone booths along one side of the courtroom, and seated there, one per booth.

“The only other people allowed in the room were their various lawyers, their proffered sureties and court security officers (11 of them by one lawyer’s count).

“Everyone else – families, friends, supporters and media – were shepherded to an adjacent room called a “viewing room”.

“There, the assembled crowd of 80 could watch fuzzy images on a giant screen from the courtroom right next door – complete with a small, close-up version of one or two of the accused people in a corner of the screen – and hear most, though not all, of what was said, not that it can be reported in any case.

“It was like the real thing, only not. This is the vaunted “open courts principle” at work; the courts aren’t open and the principle isn’t worth squat.”

Blatchford writes that the notion underlying the publication ban on bail hearings is to protect the presumed innocent from “heinous publicity” from the likes of the state and the press that may prejudice the trials. She points out that the bans are meant to be temporary, but often last for years. She writes:

“Practically speaking, the bans also allow for publicity of another sort – defence lawyer and fan club spin, for instance – to go unanswered, with allegations of egregious police misconduct, even brutality, languishing in the air unchecked and unchallenged for years.”