14 Feb 2011

Final arguments in Canadian constitutional hearing on polygamy will be broadcast on TV and Web

CBC News  -  Canada   February 7, 2011

Polygamy hearing final arguments on TV, web

When lawyers have their last chance to convince a judge of whether Canada's anti-polygamy laws should remain or be thrown out, cameras will be there to record the historic courtroom debate.

A B.C. judge has decided television and web cameras will be allowed to film final arguments in the constitutional case which most observers agree will likely end up at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lawyer Dan Burnett, who successfully argued for the access on behalf of CBC and Global TV, said the judge's decision Monday could impact the openness of the courts to the media.

"It's quite an exciting development because [the judge] has indicated that not only will cameras be allowed, which has almost never occurred before in B.C., but also web casting of the entire argument, which will be a first," Burnett said.

The CBC had originally asked in November to broadcast the proceedings of the case, but Chief Justice Robert Bauman rejected the request on the condition that the argument was made the same day as the opening of the trial and that a lawyer representing the federal government did not agree to cameras.

In Monday's decision, no party involved in the case objected. Bauman's ruling imposes conditions requiring the cameras to focus only on the judge and the lawyers.

The only court in the country that regularly broadcasts proceedings is the Supreme Court of Canada, while several others have allowed cameras on rare occasions requiring the approval of all parties involved.
10-minute delay

Burnett said while the chief justice noted that the case doesn't necessarily create a precedent, he is hopeful it will.

"In a case of great public importance, it's a very helpful step forward as far as the openness of the court and my expectation is that those involved will see how unobtrusive it is and that it will pave the way for greater electronic access in other cases down the road," Burnett said.

The case began after the provincial government asked the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whether the law against polygamy violates the guarantee of religious freedom in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court has spent more than two months hearing from nearly three dozen witnesses, including academic experts and current and former residents of Bountiful, B.C., the small polygamous commune that is at the heart of the case. Some observers have suggested the case could end up at the Supreme Court of Canada.

The lawyers will present their closing arguments in the spring and at the request of the judge, there will be a 10-minute delay in the live coverage.

"The advantage of web casting ... is people can watch all of it if they want instead of what portion can fit on the evening news," Burnett said.

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Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case.

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