Friday, June 7, 2002
Judge tightens gag order
By Times-Journal Staff
Justice Eleanor Schnall further tightened restrictions Thursday on how the media can report a trial involving children seized from an Aylmer home last summer by Family and Children’s Services (FACS) of St. Thomas-Elgin.
Reacting to trial stories published in Thursday’s Globe and Mail and other newspapers, Schnall cited possible breaches of a ban on publication and inaccuracies as grounds for her ruling which now forbids the media from publishing or broadcasting any "report or anything that they see or hear in the courtroom during the voir dire proceedings, including their observations of the parents ... ."
Exceptions include stories that only identify the stage of the proceedings and describe what witnesses have been heard and who is expected to testify, subject to a previous ruling which imposed a ban on publication and prohibited identifying the family, parents, and witnesses involved.
The hearing, now into its 10th day is being held to determine whether the children should be found in need of protection as per an application by FACS. The central issue is the use of discipline in the home.
Schnall amended her ruling made early in the trial after reading stories Thursday morning. She described one story in The Globe and Mail as inaccurate and later criticized other stories for the detail they went into after court viewed two days of videotapes where the children are being interviewed.
Descriptions in some of the stories go too far by revealing evidence, she said. Details in the Globe story that are inaccurate would create the wrong impression for readers, she said.
After her ruling, she later cautioned that while the media could report her ruling and oral reasons they could not disclose some things she said, in order to preserve the ban on publication of evidence.
"I am speechless," she said, describing her reaction to some of the stories.
Schnall said at worst, some of the breaches may be considered contempt of court.
Her further rulings, she said, were to reduce the possibility any more distress for the children.
Schnall was disappointed an additional half day had to be devoted to issues involving media coverage. She said her ruling would apply to all media at the trial including those who had complied so far with the ban and those who hadn’t.
Schnall warned she would not hesitate to ban the media completely from the courtroom if more concerns arose.
She had already allowed media to have copies of transcripts of the videotape, she noted.
"Some courts may give out more, some less. I have to be governed by my role as a presiding judge."
She turned down a request to hear formal submissions on the issue from a lawyer for the media.
Thursday’s witnesses included an FACS supervisor who worked on the case and an Aylmer police officer.
The police officer is expected to continue testifying today, followed by another FACS employee.
The trial continues at the St. Thomas Justice Building.