Canada’s Supreme Court Upholds Bail Hearing News Blackouts

By: E&P Staff

The Associated Press and several Canadian media organizations lost an appeal in Canada’s Supreme Court that would have overturned a law that allows defendants at bail hearings to have reporting about evidence banned.

Reporters can attend such hearings, but judges are required to grant prosecution or defense requests that evidence not be published, according to the Associated Press.

With one dissenting vote, the court held the ban to be one of several necessary fairness measures, according to the decision released last week.

AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin called the ban “censorship” and a “prior restraint on speech” that should not “be imposed without a balancing by the judge in each case of the free speech and fair trial issues at stake.”

For the majority, Justice Marie Deschamps wrote: “Accused should be devoting their resources and energy to obtaining their release, not to deciding whether to compromise liberty in order to avoid having evidence aired outside the courtroom.”

Appealing last fall along with the AP were the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CTV television and the Toronto Star.

The AP quoted media lawyer Paul Schabas, who argued that because journalists represent the public in courts, they must report proceedings there, including bail hearings.

The appeal concerned arrests in 2006 of persons accused of planning to bomb the Toronto Stock Exchange and two government sites. Schabas had challenged a reporting ban that he said prevented the public from knowing why some suspects were granted bail and later had charges withdrawn.

The AP noted that Canada’s high court also heard other media lawyers unsuccessfully challenge the same ban in a case in which an Edmonton man accused (and later convicted) of killing his pregnant wife was released, with the public never learning why the suspect had been granted bail.

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