Strict rules govern reporting at canal mass murder trial

The judge presiding at the canal mass murder trial in Kingston, Ontario, has changed his mind about the use of electronic devices in the courtroom, as the trial proper is about to begin. In a short session today, Mr. Justice Robert Maranger announced that he was reversing the decision he made Tuesday. On Tuesday, Maranger said he would permit journalists to send email from the courtroom, though he banned live Tweeting from the courtroom. But today, Maranger said he’s now decided that sending email from the courtroom also will be prohibited.

The problem, the judge said, is that the use of phones inside the courtroom could interfere with the court reporter’s recording, which constitutes the official record of the trial.

“It has come to my attention that the use of Blackberries in the courtroom, depending where, can cause radio frequency interference with the audio digital recording equipment,” Maranger said. “There’s a committee currently in place studying the problem and the problem exists in different courtrooms and I’ve been told by the IT people that there’s anecdotal evidence of it occurring here.”

The judge said the transcripts of the trial take precedence over everything else.

“I regret to do this, but the order will have to be modified to disallow the use of Blackberry or mobile devices during the conduct of the trial,” he said. “I really don’t see that I have a choice based on the current state of the situation.” Maranger said all phones and smartphones must be turned off inside the courtroom and cannot be left on in airplane mode.

Maranger said nothing prevents reporters from leaving the courtroom to Tweet or send emails about what has taken place in front of the jury. Most discussions that take place in the jury’s absence cannot be reported publicly until the trial concludes. That prohibition prevents journalists from reporting the substance of a sparring match between lawyers that took place Tuesday. Defence lawyers were seeking to prevent Crown prosecutors from introducing some evidence. On Wednesday, Maranger ruled that evidence is admissible.

A broad non-publication order also is in force that restricts the ability of journalists to report fully on the Shafia family. The order will remain in force, even after the trial concludes.

Shafias leave the courthouse on October 19, 2011
Three Shafia family members accused of murdering four others, (from left) Tooba, Hamed, Mohammad Shafia, are escorted to the van that will take them back to jail after they appeared in court in Kingston, Ontario, on Wednesday, October 19, 2011, the day before the trial proper begins

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