CBC Wins Access to Exhibits in Ashley Smith Case

Stockwoods lawyer Patti Latimer successfully appealed a decision limiting the media’s right to access court exhibits, on behalf of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC sought access to exhibits, including videos, filed in the criminal proceedings arising out of the death of Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old who died while in custody at the Grand Valley Institution for Women. While CBC’s request was granted in part, the Superior Court of Justice restricted CBC’s access to those portions of the video exhibits that were actually played in open court. In addition, CBC was denied access to the video exhibit depicting Ms. Smith’s death, as the trial judge felt it did not need to be broadcast to the public. In an unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal for Ontario allowed CBC’s appeal. The Court confirmed the media’s (and the public’s) right to access judicial proceedings, which “must extend to anything that has been made part of the record.” In addition, the Court confirmed that access to exhibits can be denied only if there is convincing evidence it would cause a serious risk to the administration of justice and the benefits of denying access outweigh interests such as freedom of expression. The Court granted CBC access to the entirety of the video exhibits, including the video depicting Ms. Smith’s death. The videos will be used as part of a documentary on the fifth estate about Ashley Smith and the systemic problems that exist for people with mental health issues, especially youth, in the correctional system.

To read the decision, click here.