Photo: BC Gov Flickr
County Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
Five days of BC Supreme Court proceedings later this month will be publicly broadcast online, an incredibly rare occurrence as a group suing the county government over its pandemic response seeks to have the proposed class action lawsuit certified.
The lawsuit brought by the Canadian Society for the Advancement of Science in Public Policy, led by Kipling Warner, aims to challenge various measures, mandates and restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic and seek compensation. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The case will go to court December 12-16, when the plaintiffs’ class will try to convince the judge to allow the class action to proceed.
The group applied to have the hearings broadcast on the Internet with a delay, citing widespread public interest. The provincial government opposed the application, arguing that the video could be manipulated and that the court’s contempt powers are limited outside of B.C.
In a decision released Thursday, Judge David Crerar ruled that the public will benefit from being able to view the proceedings.
“I agree with the prosecution that in recent years we have witnessed a proliferation of conspiratorial and uninformed statements about the functioning of various branches of government, including the courts,” he said.
“It is hoped that the broadcast of this proceeding will, in a small portion, demonstrate that courts in Canada will consider and review requests submitted before them in a principled, independent and neutral manner, without fear or favour.”
Cameras are extremely rare in BC courtrooms. Past instances of webcasts have tended to be limited to cases where hearings have been made available to remote Indigenous communities on matters relevant to them. And in those cases, hearings were never broadcast on the wider internet.
The judge noted that no witnesses will appear at the hearings, which will mainly consist of lawyers who refer to affidavits and cases as they present arguments.
The Supreme Court of Canada has broadcast similar hearings since 2009.
The provincial government argued that inflammatory and violent remarks on the internet that, when associated with the broadcast, could demean the court and risk violence.
Justice Crerar ruled that this will happen regardless of whether the hearings are broadcast or not.
“The internet is already a cesspool of misinformed and sometimes deranged pronouncements on almost every subject, including our courts. Such poison exists whether or not judicial proceedings are broadcast,” he ruled.
“Again, the broadcast may serve to attempt to convince the reasonable viewer of the fair and impartial assessment of this matter.”
Justice Crerar noted that despite “the vastness of the Internet and its infinite capacity to inspire human mischief”, there is no evidence that Supreme Court of Canada broadcasts have been misused.
Since he ruled the case was clearly of public interest, it would simply fall short of making more space available in the Vancouver courthouse for in-person attendees, Crerar continued.
“The Court reiterates that it is the Supreme Court of British Columbia and not the Supreme Court of Vancouver.”
The judge’s order will limit the broadcast to a single static camera showing only the faces of plaintiff’s counsel and the judge, unless others agree.
The broadcast will also be significantly delayed – the day’s hearings will not be made public until 5pm the following day, allowing faces to be blurred out if necessary.
Recording and republication of the broadcast is prohibited and multiple large notices and a watermark will warn the viewer. The broadcast must be hosted on a non-monetized site, with no comment section.
Lawyers for both sides will have room to work out details ahead of the hearings, and Judge Crerar said the broadcasting process will be closely watched by the courts. He will not hesitate to have it removed if it is misused, he said.