Canadians are gripped. But it couldn’t happen here.
A “staggering” number of viewers north of the border are watching the ugly Virginia defamation battle between movie star Johnny Depp and actress Amber Heard, a weeks-long court spectacle that’s putting the volatile former couple’s dirty laundry on display, live, for the world to see.
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a technological revolution in Canada’s justice system. Zoom trials are commonplace and most courts in Ontario are now equipped with cameras. But the Depp trial underscores this fact: Canadians are still far likelier to see what unfolds in an American court than in any courtroom here.
In 2016, Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt wrote a CBC opinion piece opposing televised coverage of court proceedings.
He and other skeptics argue that cameras have the potential to prejudice trial outcomes, diminish court decorum and lead to grandstanding by participants, depriving defendants of fair trials.
Five-and-a-half years later, Spratt said he has “modified” his position. He attributes that to his participation in a number of high-profile zoom court proceedings, as well as following the bail hearings for leaders of the Ottawa trucker protest earlier this year.
“Having court proceedings accessible to members of the public, I think, is much more representative of the open court principle,” which is enshrined in the Charter. That principle provides that the public has the right to observe the court process, and is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society.
“It is sort of a privileged and narrow view of the open court principle to say ‘anyone can come down to our courts and watch a case, as long as you can afford to take the day off work, afford transportation, afford child care, that you don’t have physical disabilities, or other issues, that may impede your ability to attend physically.’”