Jun. 7, 2002. 01:00 AM
New restrictions imposed on spanking trial reporting
Judge in St. Thomas says media has abused latitude in publication ban
ST. THOMAS — The judge in the spanking case has placed new restrictions on what the media can report, citing errors and breaches in yesterday's coverage.
"I appreciate the public wants to know what is happening," Madam Justice Eleanor Schnall said yesterday, "but in this case it will not be at the expense of the children's well-being."
Schnall is presiding over a high-profile child protection case involving seven children.
They were apprehended for three weeks last July because their fundamentalist Christian parents use belts and straps to discipline them.
She expanded an unusual publication ban she imposed last week on reporting of evidence, by prohibiting accounts of anything heard or seen in the courtroom during voir dire, a trial within a trial, held to determine the admissibility of evidence.
She did permit publication of a report of her ruling, as long as the reports do not refer to what was seen and heard on videotaped interviews with the children, nor to the parents' demeanour and reactions.
While descriptions of the parents' behaviour in the courtroom are not evidence, the reports could cause the children distress or harm, she said.
Referring to a CBC Radio report and a Globe and Mail article, Schnall said the media have abused the latitude she granted in allowing reports in general terms of the progress of the case.
She said the radio report improperly identified the age of one of the children.
And she implied that the newspaper had brought the administration of justice into disrepute by reporting that the family's pastor was in the courtroom, when in fact he had been excluded as a prospective witness.
At the request of the parents and the children's lawyer, Schnall is hearing the evidence within a voir dire, and will decide at the end of the trial what is admissible and what can be reported
The measure is necessary to protect the children from emotional harm, she said at the start of the trial last week.
The children's aid society, which is seeking a 12-month supervisory order, argued against the ban, saying the best interests of these and all children are served by openness.
The case is expected to clarify the limits on the use of physical force on children.
The Star and several other media outlets are appealing Schnall's ruling, requesting that only the usual legal restrictions against identifying the children apply.
In the eighth day of the trial yesterday, court heard from Dawn Clarkson, a supervisor with Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin.
Clarkson was cross-examined.
Aylmer's deputy police chief took the stand late yesterday.
Schnall's order does not allow him to be identified by name until he has finished testifying.