Cameras in the Courtroom

Repercussions for Rioting Should Be Transparent

Rioters start a fire in Downtown Vancouver Jun. 15, 2011 after game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Photo by David Murphy

Like a referee going over an instant replay in hockey, videos of the Vancouver riot on Jun. 15, 2011 are being looked over meticulously by the Vancouver Police Department, and the viewing public are yelling at their televisions, wanting to be involved.

There is no question who the best team in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals was and no question who was in the wrong after the game. But in hockey, if there’s a dubious goal, the public is allowed to see the replay—and judge for themselves.

That’s why B.C. Provincial court judge Malcolm Maclean’s decision on Monday to not let cameras in the courtrooms for the prosecution of rioters involved in last spring’s mischief is wrong.

Vancouverites want to know if those accused of rioting, destruction, mischief, breaking and entering—and a slew of other charges—crossed the line or not.

So why shouldn’t people be allowed to watch justice being served to rioters who were gleefully bashing tire-irons and hockey sticks against windows in downtown Vancouver?

Vancouverites deserve a measure of retribution after they watched in agony while their city’s core—and image—was decimated.

These idiots racked up an estimated $5 million in damages and devastated the city’s reputation, undoing, in the span of a few hours, a year’s worth of deserved acclaim for a job well done at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Fortunately, those who filmed the event, originally deemed nuisances for encouraging rather than discouraging the rioters, were the ones trying to slam the door on the criminals.

Cameras might be one of the most common pieces of technology today, and those who lost their minds during the riot also lost the idea that they were being watched—and recorded.

It turns out you don’t need an Orwellian police state to catalogue a riot’s every move; just the general population and their cell phones.

Local newspapers, The Vancouver Sun and The Province, just released 5,500 photos of the riot, and those snapping pictures in the madness handed over thousands of photos and hours of footage. Ultimately, the press and the public produced much more evidence than the police could ever have collected.

Given the public’s involvement in getting the accused their dates in court by submitting evidence and identifying rioters, their trials will be inescapably public decisions. And the rioters should have their shamefully deserved 15 minutes of infamy in front of yet another camera in court.

This isn’t just any privacy case. If the British Columbian justice system cracked the whip on this riot, thanks to the people documenting the event, it would have set a significant precedent for other major-scale events across the country and would have decreased the potential for future riots breaking out. Fear of extreme public humiliation is a great deterrent.

However, British Columbia missed a glorious opportunity to set this benchmark, leaving the door closed for public debate in the courtroom, but open for the defendant to hire an expensive, proven lawyer and get sent home with a sore wrist.

Privacy advocates can kick up all the fuss they want, but today we expect transparency—to see justice served—and Vancouverites certainly won’t put up with the rioters who gave their city an international black eye.

Why can’t we live in a country where the action, effects, causes and conclusions are seen and deemed fair or not? How do we know if there’s a problem with our justice system if the general public can’t gauge fair decisions—especially in cases where they played such a significant role in putting the accused on the stand?
Cameras need to be in courtrooms in public cases like these, and it should have started with the prosecution of the Vancouver rioters.