On May 24,coroner Bonnie Porter will hold a full hearing into what kind of access, if any, the press can have to the exhibits shown at the Ashley Smith inquest.
Correctional Services Canada filed a submission late last Friday, on the eve of the inquest, which asks for a sweeping publication ban on all exhibits — expected to number in the hundreds.
Needless to say, members of the press weren’t happy — but neither was the Smith family’s lawyer, or the many advocacy groups who have been granted standing at the inquest.
“This is all about them hiding from what they did to Ashley Smith,” Julian Falconer, lawyer for Ashley Smith’s family, told the National Post outside the coroner’s court in Toronto, where the inquest is being held.(Her mother supports the release of evidence to the media.)
“Keeping secrets from the public is not consistent with the public process,” he added. “Yet Corrections Canada brings a motion to seal up exhibits for the entirety of the proceedings. It’s unprecedented. Frankly, it’s embarrassing.”
Specifically, CSC wants Porter to delay media access to all the exhibits until the jury reaches its verdict. Considering the inquest is expected to last six to nine months, this pretty much amounts to a stamp of irrelevance, or at least untimeliness, on much of the evidence if the ban gets the green light.
Perhaps The Globe and Mail said it best in today’s editorial, entitled “We need to know, and see, how Ashley Smith died“:
“The Correctional Service of Canada is trying to keep the videos from being made public until the inquest nears its close, arguing that the jury may be influenced by the media coverage. But that is life in the open-court system. In criminal trials, once an exhibit is ruled admissible into court it is considered to be available to the media. The stakes are higher in those trials in one important sense: An individual’s liberty is at stake. At the Ashley Smith inquest, the reputation of a government body is at stake. As well it should be … The videos may appear degrading, in some sense, but in their power to
shock and horrify they can alert the public and make the death, and
life, of Ms. Smith, into something meaningful.”
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