Muzzling media does not help right the wrongs of past failures of justice: CAJ

REGINA, SK, Nov. 23, 2022 /CNW/ – The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls on the Government of Saskatchewan, and the province’s minister of justice and attorney general, to withdraw its unnecessary application for a sweeping publication ban that would prevent journalists from reporting on the upcoming bail hearing for a pair of Saulteaux sisters in a possible wrongful conviction case.

Sisters Nerissa and Odelia Quewezance are scheduled to appear for a bail hearing in Yorkton, Sask. court on Nov. 24-25. Their case has drawn considerable attention in recent months after the Department of Justice’s Criminal Conviction Review Group declared in June that there “may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this matter.” David Lametti, the federal justice minister, has ordered an investigation into the convictions.

The sisters have spent about three decades in prison after they were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of the second-degree murder of a local farmer, Joseph Anthony Dolff, in 1994. The sisters are seeking to be exonerated after the pair’s cousin, Jason Kashane, pleaded guilty to killing Dolff. He was sentenced to five years in jail. 

If granted, the publication ban would also seal court records.

“In Canada, open courts and freedom of the press are foundational values that are embedded in our legal and cultural understanding of how effective systems should work,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly.

“Imposing restrictions that institute a proverbial ‘cone of silence’ prevents the public from properly scrutinizing the merits of the case. This lack of transparency casts a dark shadow over the public’s right to know. The court must ask itself: Whose rights would be protected by imposing this publication ban?”

In general, publication bans are orders made to protect the accused person(s) charter-protected right(s) to a fair and public trial. They are also used to ensure that victims, witnesses, and others are able to participate in judicial proceedings without suffering negative consequences.

The CAJ supports efforts by news organizations, including APTN and the CBC, to challenge these orders to bear witness and keep the public informed.

“As a public trust, journalism must always shine a light on the ways in which our social fabric may be tattered, torn, or in need of repair,” Jolly said. “Any effort to muzzle the media not only impinges on the pursuit of justice, as in this case, but it also speaks to the wider abuse of the systems of transparency and accountability in our society. Justice must be seen to be done.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with 1300 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.

SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists

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