Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Court cameras to televise drug cases May 20

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Manitoba justice officials have scheduled the next batch of cases which will be broadcast live as part of a unique pilot project.

Members of the public will get to look in on a federal drug docket later this month when cameras are placed in a provincial courtroom for the first time.

There are currently seven cases scheduled for hearing during the May 20th docket, which begins at 2 p.m. They all involve drug and weapons charges.

Crown and defence lawyers are slated to make submissions that day about sentences in all cases, although it’s possible some could be adjourned.

The Free Press will carry a live feed of the docket on our website.

Another Manitoba Court of Appeal hearing has also been set for broadcast. Dakota Smoke was convicted of impaired driving causing death and bodily harm following a trial last year. He was then sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.

Smoke is now fighting the sentence, claiming it is harsh and excessive. Lawyers are set to make arguments on May 30th beginning at 9:30 a.m. The hearing, which is expected to last about two hours, will be broadcast live.

Last month, an appeal court hearing for convicted triple murderer Jerome Labossiere was done with cameras in the courtroom. The high court reserved their decision in that case.

As well, a Queen’s Bench murder verdict was also done on camera last month as the very first case of the pilot project, which will see all three levels of Manitoba courts (provincial, Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal) select cases for broadcast.

The chief judges of their respective courts have heralded the pilot project as a "baby step" aimed at increasing public access to justice and overall transparency in how the court system works.

The top judges will evaluate the project over the coming months to see if it's meeting its goals. In the meantime, it remains open to the media to bring legal applications forward to have a camera in cases they deem worthy of their attention.

It's possible that down the road one courtroom at each level of the court system would become so-called "presumptive" venues, where it's just expected cases there will be captured on camera. It's not currently being contemplated that these rooms would hear trials or proceedings where witness testimony is being heard.

-with files from James Turner

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