Editorial: Move trials, lose coverage

Whatever the justification for moving trials, it prohibits the ability to report on cases that are of great importance to our community.

Last week, perhaps the biggest trial Cranbrook has ever seen came to an end with three Cranbrook men sentenced for, in two cases, conspiracy to commit murder, and in the third case, counselling a crime not committed.

Except that Cranbrook never saw the trial, because it was held in Kamloops. Defense lawyers successfully argued that the high-profile case should be moved to the larger city for two reasons. First: Cranbrook’s little courthouse could not handle the security necessary to make the trial safe. Second: we, the local news media, had extensively covered the little information not behind a publication ban before the trial was held.

Meanwhile, this week a defense lawyer for Cheyenne Learn phoned into Cranbrook Supreme Court. After a successful appeal, Learn has been granted a re-trial over charges of murder for the December 2007 death of Tammy Ellis in Cranbrook.

The defense lawyer told the judge that he plans to apply for the trial to be moved, again to Kamloops. Though the move has not been approved yet, he mentioned the post-appeal publicity in the local news media, which again would be the Townsman, as a reason for moving the case.

So what is a journalist supposed to deduce from these two instances? It seems simple: we can choose between reporting a crime when it occurs and the lead-up to the trial, or reporting on the trial itself.

The problem is, in this day and age, no community newspaper in the country has the resources or the budget to send a reporter away for three months to cover a trial in another city.

In the conspiracy trial, we begged and pleaded with a competitor newspaper in Kamloops to send a court reporter to cover a case that has little interest to their own readers. We were lucky: they agreed.

Now, it seems like we’ll have to call on them again to cover Learn’s re-trial.

It seems ridiculous to have to point this out, but it is in the public interest that your local media report on high-profile local cases. Reporters in faraway cities don’t understand what facets of the case are the most important to Cranbrook residents; and of course they aren’t familiar with locations. They don’t realize that before the conspiracy arrests were made, most people in this city had no idea there were criminal gangs operating here, and which hotels they frequented.

During the conspiracy trial, just about every week someone on our news staff was asked by family, friends and acquaintances for an update on the case.

Even if you put aside the public interest, what about the witnesses and the families of the victims and the accused? If they want to attend these trials, they are expected to put their lives on hold for three months, and pay for travel to and accommodation in a city a long way from home. They must separate themselves from their support network at a time when they most need it, during one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.

We aren’t blaming the lawyers here: defense lawyers must represent their client’s best interests, and it’s true that in these cases selecting a jury from a limited pool in a city of 20,000 is difficult when most people who are eligible for jury duty are also the kind of people who read the paper every day.

And we are fortunate to have Crown counsel in this town who are happy to communicate with the media whenever we request it.

In the conspiracy case, the prosecutor offered to be interviewed by the paper throughout the sentencing.

In another recent case, a crime occurred in Cranbrook but the case was moved to Port Coquitlam at the offender’s request. The head prosecutor in Cranbrook insisted to the judge that he be allowed to appear in the Port Coquitlam court via video, so that the Townsman could sit with him in the courtroom in Cranbrook and follow along during the hearings.

But the fact is: whatever the reasons, the mitigating circumstances, the justification for moving these trials, it prohibits our ability to quickly, accurately and fairly report on cases that are of great importance to our community.

We do have a means of recourse: we could hire a lawyer of our own and appeal the application to move cases out of our city. But that would be more expensive than sending a reporter out of town to cover the trial, and if we can’t afford that, well…

Perhaps this is just another downside of living in a small city at the far edge of the province. Perhaps it’s just one of the pitfalls of a justice system that is, for the most part, fair and unbiased.

Just Posted

The latest EKASS survey confirms a steady decline in substance use among EK youth over the years. (image compilation via Pixabay)
Latest survey shows steady decline in adolescent substance use over the years

Starting in 2002, the survey has been conducted every two years to monitor changes in substance use patterns, attitudes and behaviors amongst East Kootenay youth.

The Aquatic Centre at Western Financial Place.
Cranbrook Aquatic Center to close temporarily

The annual shutdown of the Aquatic Center at Western Financial Place will begin earlier than scheduled this year and does not have a defined end date at this time.

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

It happened this week in 1914

June 6 -12: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read