In a rare move, an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justice may allow a camera in a courtroom to livestream his verdict in the Travis Vader murder trial.
On Wednesday afternoon Global News, the Edmonton Journal, The Canadian Press, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CTV made their case to have cameras in the courtroom next week when a decision is made in the first-degree murder trial of Travis Vader.
On Wednesday afternoon, Justice Denny Thomas told the courtroom he will decide on whether to allow a camera in court on Tuesday.
The media consortium, represented by Edmonton lawyer Fred Kozak, argueD the public has a right to witness first-hand whether the Alberta man is found guilty or acquitted in the killing of an elderly St. Albert couple.
Vader’s lawyer also supported the idea of a camera in the courtroom, suggesting it would allow the public to better understand how the justice system works.
The Crown said it has concerns a summarized verdict with a camera in the courtroom would mislead the public.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Bret McCann, the son Lyle and Marie McCann.
“I think it’s 2016, I think the notion that yes the court system is open, one can go to the trial, one can go to the CanLii website to read the judgement, but how many people really do that?”
The affidavit was put together by CBC crime reporter Janice Johnston. In her application, Johnston argues that the high-profile case has attracted significant attention around the world, is an extremely complex case, and it is in the public’s best interest to see the decision delivered directly from the judge.
“I believe it is unreasonable to assume that every person interested in seeing or hearing the trial judge’s synopsis of his reason for the decision in this case can come to the courthouse to personally witness Justice Thomas’s decision,” the documents state, adding it’s unrealistic to assume people will be able to navigate the CanLii website where legal decisions are posted.
She also pointed out that millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the six-year legal process, and having a video feed of the decision will “foster public confidence in the integrity of the court system and assist the public in understanding the administration of justice.”
TIMELINE: The key events in Travis Vader case
The application points out that broadcasting the verdict will not affect the outcome, but will give those interested an opportunity to see and hear the decision for themselves in full context.
“If it wasn’t televised a lot of people would just hear a guilty, not guilty verdict and not know the background to it,” McCann said. “I think it’s important for the court to publicly state their rationale for the verdict. With a large audience there will be a lot of sunshine on the decision.”
Other Canadian courts are increasingly recognizing the value to the public of recording and broadcasting court proceedings, the affidavit points out. The first cameras were allowed in a Canadian court over a quarter-century ago, and since then several provinces and even the country’s highest court have allowed cameras in.
The Supreme Court of Canada has broadcast proceedings on CPAC since 1995 and webcast them since 2009.
Policies vary from province to province, with access the most restricted in the larger provinces. In Manitoba cameras are allowed in select courts, while the Federal Court of Appeal, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and the B.C. Supreme Court have also conducted pilot projects at varying times since the 1990s.
While Ontario is the only province to ban audio and video coverage of court proceedings, select cases have been broadcast with the court’s decision.
“Not allowing a livestream of Justice Thomas’ decision fails to recognize the trend in Canadian courts which accept technology into the courtroom, and fails to acknowledge the reality of our technologically advanced, wired-in world,” the affidavit argues.
McCann agrees. “We can leverage technology so that the court system is not an obscure process, but it open and people can engage with it,” he told Global News Wednesday morning.
The verdict in the Vader trial will be delivered Thursday, Sept. 15. He is accused of killing Lyle and Marie McCann in July 2010, when they set out on a road trip to B.C. in their motorhome. Their bodies have never been found.
READ BELOW: The full affidavit.