January 13, 2018 3:11 pm

New communications role to increase public access to Alberta’s courts

WATCH ABOVE: Tony Blais was a court reporter for 18 years, but is now the brand-new communications officer for the Alberta Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench. The role is part of a pilot project to take some of the mystery out of the court system, by increasing media and public access to cases. He joined Jennifer Crosby to talk about it.

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Alberta’s new Chief Justice has spearheaded a pilot project aimed at increasing access to the courts.

A longtime former court reporter now holds a newly-formed communications job — tasked with helping the media cover the legal system.

Tony Blais spent 18 years as a court reporter, mostly for the Edmonton Sun newspaper, and later for the Edmonton Journal as well, after the papers merged under Postmedia. His new title is Communications Officer for the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta and the Court of Appeal of Alberta.

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The goal of the new role is to increase public awareness of what’s happening at the law courts, which can be intimidating to some.

“We hope to demystify it,” says Blais.

Blais credits the new chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Mary Moreau, with creating the role to help share more information about the justice system with the public.

READ MORE: Mary Moreau appointed chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta

Blais believes people are interested in what happens inside Alberta courtrooms, but don’t necessarily have time to watch proceedings in person.

“The media is basically the eyes of the public, so if we can get our message through the media then the public will get it,” Blais says.

He acknowledges courthouses can feel less than welcoming.  “It can be scary, and a lot of people, maybe they go down there and it’s to pay their ticket so it’s not a friendly place.”

But under the open-court principle, members of the public are welcome to attend court and watch proceedings.

Blais says during his time as a court reporter, there were some who often attended as spectators, mostly seniors: “Some of them just loved it, they would come every day.”

But he knows most people have busy lives — and that’s where media coverage is important.

Under the communications role, Blais will draw attention to stories he thinks newsrooms should be aware of, and in some cases help journalists navigate access to court exhibits.

In an age of declining media resources, it’s welcome assistance.

“The reporters don’t have time to go down there and dig, which you have to do because there is so much going on there,” says Blais.

The three-month pilot project may also see the courts move into the realm of social media, with the potential for Court of Queen’s Bench Facebook page and Twitter account.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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