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Trial transparency

On Thursday Albertans will hear directly the outcome of a long, high profile murder trial. In an historic moment, Justice Denny Thomas will be broadcast live as he reads his decision in the first-degree murder trial of Travis Vader.

On Thursday Albertans will hear directly the outcome of a long, high profile murder trial. In an historic moment, Justice Denny Thomas will be broadcast live as he reads his decision in the first-degree murder trial of Travis Vader.

There have been few trials of its length and complexity in this province and it’s a case that has directly impacted the community of St. Albert with the tragic loss of two of our residents in Lyle and Marie McCann.

In Alberta, it has been very rare to have cameras allowed in the courtroom. In the past 20 years, it’s occurred only once, during the inquiry into the death of Connie Jacobs on the Tsuu T’ina Nation in the late ’90s. In this province, a camera has never been allowed to broadcast the decision in a criminal trial.

“The fact that it isn’t a common practice doesn’t mean it isn’t important,” lawyer Fred Kozak told the Gazette last week. “It’s especially important in a case like this where there’s an immense public interest in the case.”

Kozak is representing a consortium of media organizations that are seeking access to the trial, advocating for the public to hear the outcome directly in what has been a highly publicized and complex trial.

The Vader case is more complicated than most. The bodies of the McCanns were never located, nor was a murder weapon. There are allegations of police misconduct in the investigation. The McCanns’ motorhome was found burned in Edson, but no human remains were found. Dozens of witnesses testified at the trial that lasted three months.

There is a lot on the line with Vader facing first-degree murder charges and the McCann family seeking closure and justice. Both Vader’s defence and the McCann’s son Bret supported the application to have the verdict broadcast and there is no law preventing the presence of cameras in the courtroom.

Certainly, allowing cameras in court all the time may be problematic; it could prevent witnesses from testifying and have an impact on both jurors and courtroom decorum. But as Thomas noted in his decision on Tuesday, this decision is a “one-off.” This is one exception, the first in many years, and allowing exceptions in other Canadian courtrooms hasn’t resulted in a plethora of broadcasted trials.

This is also a rare opportunity to see a judge’s decision directly to the people who pay for it. Other than a few exceptions, our justice system is open to the public who want to attend court. Allowing a camera in this case is simply extending that freedom to everyone.

St. Albertans have been waiting six years for the outcome to this case. This is a trial where public interest is high – particularly in this city – and a lot of public money has been spent seeking justice. This community deserves to hear the outcome directly.