CBC’s Live Blog on the Mike Duffy Trial

Nigel Wright’s testimony in the Duffy trial this week has raised yet again the question of cameras in Canadian courts. As Peter Mansbridge says, if the Supreme Court of Canada can televise its hearings, why are trials of national interest such as the Mike Duffy trial, now continuing in the Ottawa Court of Justice, not accessible to the public on television? I have set out some of the history, and the issues surrounding cameras in courtrooms, in an earlier post which I commend to you.

In the meantime, the media and politicos and, apparently, even the participating lawyers are following with avid interest the CBC’s Live Blog of the Mike Duffy Trial, now on Day 39. My sister-in-law in Campbell River has followed since Day 1. She loves the short blow-by-blow, the more elaborate explanations, the video interludes, and the comments posted by followers. Like others who have left comments on the blog, she appreciates this very rare access to a historic court proceeding. It’s CBC innovating on a new platform and doing so very well. A great role for the CBC.

Kady O’Malley was the reporter who carried the ball in June. This week, Rosemary Barton has tweeted the blow-by-blow, with the hashtag #duffy, and Jason Ho has added more expansive explanations of the details. Other reporters have sketched in the context, posted pictures, and added video content of the scene outside the courtroom and across the country. Although wi-fi is sometimes sketchy and the reporters sometimes have trouble keeping up with the pace and form of the questions, they are doing yeoman service. Together, they give followers a pretty good idea of what is happening, what is said, and how.

Setting up the Live Blog on my iPad has been particularly useful. The blog updates all day while I work on another computer. Sometimes, I follow what is happening in real-time. Sometimes, I catch up later. Although second-hand, that we can be present at such a proceeding with at least this semblance of modern technology is pretty exciting. It gives us access to the raw data from which we can assess later reports of what occurred. 

Equally, if not more important, the blog for Day 38 gives links to the documents which the lawyers have put in as exhibits for discussion with Mr. Wright. There are documents put in by the crown on Wednesday and by the defence yesterday. These are priceless archives of emails and other materials not readily available to the public. Now they are open to professionals for analysis, and to anyone else for personal perusal.

I would venture to say that never have Canadians had access to documents which so clearly show, email by email, how a Prime Minister’s Office operates. Apart from the interaction between the PMO and Mike Duffy, they offer a window into the inner workings of the PMO, its relationships with the Conservative party, with the Commons and the Senate. Stephen Harper may seek secrecy and control, but the Mike Duffy trial has blown that aspiration wide open. Undoubtedly, we will learn more about the significance of those documents in the court proceedings to follow, and in the election campaign.

On the face of it, yesterday’s cross-examination of Nigel Wright, together with the documents, shows that many people still close to the Prime Minister were aware of what was going on and of the “media lines” devised to deceive the public about the facts. That’s not what the Prime Minister told the public. But then no one ever said that the current government puts much weight on the truth.

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