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Reporting live from Nunavut's courts
Draft court policy gives reporters audio recording and tweeting rights

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 21, 2012

Journalists could soon be using audio recorders, smartphones and laptops to document proceedings in Nunavut's courts, if a new court media policy comes into effect later this summer.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Nunavut Court of Justice may soon become a little more open, with the court considering allowing reporters to write and send stories to newsrooms and the Internet from inside the court. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

The policy, currently in draft form, would make Nunavut one of the first Canadian jurisdictions to allow reporters to record audio and make live internet updates about the results of proceedings from within its courtrooms. British Columbia's Supreme Court announced shortly before the June 20 Nunavut meeting that it would allow reporters to update Twitter, blogs, and such from court.

"If you're accredited, you would be allowed to tweet," Nunavut Chief Justice Robert Kilpatrick told media outlet representatives about his office's proposed policy, which shares the same restriction as British Columbia's new policy. Reporters will have to get media identification to use technology within the court.

Kilpatrick had asked the media whether fellow reporters should do the accreditation, but CBC representative Neville Crabbe said the broadcaster would prefer the courts to make that decision as there are no professional journalism accreditation bodies in Nunavut, as there are for medical professionals, for example.

"I think the question you're asking is who's a journalist and who isn't," Nunatsiaq News editor Jim Bell said. "There's nothing to stop anyone in Nunavut from starting a blog and calling themselves the editor."

"If we're giving the media special privileges, we have to be careful," Kilpatrick said, noting accredited media will eventually have access to reserved seating if he gets his way.

The changes mean reporters would not need to ask permission to send tweets, or other texts, from within the court, or to record audio for use only to make for more accurate reporting of comments made in the court. The recordings could not be broadcast without special permission.

The policy on allowing still and video cameras in the courts will remain the same as it is now; reporters must ask permission to bring cameras into the courts.

"There will be cases where the nature of the matter being litigated will be of interest," Kilpatrick said of allowing broadcasts. The ongoing case against pedophile Eric Dejaeger, or a possible Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. vs. Canada case were cited as cases where expanded access including broadcast rights may be in the greater public interest.

The court is also looking at expanding the media's access to court records, allowing outlets to copy and publish court records. Content subject to a publication ban would be redacted by a court records officer.

"The CBC believes the open court principle allows the media to obtain copies of what's available to the public," Crabbe said.

Kilpatrick was concerned about ensuring the policy provided some protections to people going through the courts, though.

"If you're going to give a policy of rehabilitation, if you've hung them out to dry, what have you done to that policy?" he asked. "What's the benefit of a record suspension or pardon? By then, it's no good."

The policy is expected to be ready for release as early as August.

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