Last fall, more than a dozen editors and journalists from BC’s northern region met with Provincial Court judges for the second in a series of regional media workshops offered by the Court. The meeting yielded not just a valuable exchange of information and perspectives, but a new educational opportunity for BC media.
As a result of feedback at the regional workshop in Prince George, Courthouse Libraries BC is offering a free legal research webinar on October 27, 2020 for journalists interested in improving their ability to locate reliable online information about the BC legal system and to track legislation and case law. The course will focus primarily on free and low-cost legal research resources and discuss some of the differences between these and paid databases. Participants will be able to submit questions in advance to be answered by a law librarian during the webinar.
Note (October 30, 2020): The recorded webinar is available at https://vimeo.com/472814386.
How it all began
In 2017 the Provincial Court held its first regional workshop for members of the media in the Okanagan Region.
When consulted, journalists in the Court’s Northern Region expressed an interest in a similar event. The Northern Region encompasses an area from Clinton in the south to the Yukon in the north and from Alberta in the east to Haida Gwaii in the west - an area bigger than France. Within that vast area 19 Provincial Court judges live in eight different communities but conduct court in 31 different locations. As a result, these judges travel extensively by road and air as part of their regular duties.
The media in the North report frequently and extensively on Provincial Court proceedings. While media in larger cities generally cover only serious, high-profile cases, in smaller centres media reports often include proceedings and sentences for less serious offences.
The 2019 workshop
Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie, Regional Administrative Judge Michael Brecknell, Judge Shannon Keyes, and Judge Ann Rounthwaite (retired) spent a half-day discussing aspects of the Court’s work of most use to journalists. Topics included:
Since the Court Services Branch of the BC Ministry of the Attorney General is responsible for operating courthouses and court registry offices, both journalists and judges appreciated having Karla Weller, Court Services Branch Policy Analyst, and Kelly Penner, In Court Operations Manager for the Prince George Court Registry, attend to discuss access issues directly with journalists and offer practical tips.
The reporters and editors who attended represented northern BC media including the Prince George Citizen, Prince George Matters, CBC Prince George, the Rocky Mountain Goat News and CKPG. Mark Nielsen of the Prince George Citizen played a key role by conveying information about the event to his media colleagues around the North.
Participants’ evaluations were positive, with the program overall receiving good to excellent ratings. Aspects of the workshop often mentioned as “most appreciated” were the lengthy question period and speakers’ openness in sharing experiences and providing straight-forward answers. One participant commented, “Presenters created an open and safe space to ask my questions.”
Media participants also contributed valuable suggestions for future workshops and spoke about the value of bringing groups of journalists together to learn from one another.
Some of the topics journalists wanted more information on are covered on the Provincial Court website www.provincialcourt.bc.ca and in our Media Guide. However, there was clearly an appetite among northern journalists to learn more about the court system and the law that affects their work. They expressed particular interest in learning more about using Court Services Online and tracking a case.
What came next
The Court conveyed that interest to Courthouse Libraries BC (CLBC). Its Chief Executive Officer, Caroline Nevin, and Liaison Lawyer and Manager of Local Libraries, Megan Vis-Dunbar, responded with enthusiasm and agreed to offer training to northern journalists. But after CLBC responded to COVID-19 with an impressive series of webinars on a variety of important legal issues, the idea expanded. Legal Research for Journalists was added to CLBC’s online training schedule and made available to anyone interested.
Recognizing the challenges faced by journalists working in smaller communities separated by large distances, the Court made its second media workshop available across BC’s North by offering live streaming to those unable to attend in person. This was the first time the Court attempted a “mixed model” presentation with both remote and in-person attendees, and it used the Court’s existing hard-wired videoconferencing system.
However, spurred by the onset of COVID-19, the Court’s capacity for virtual proceedings has increased exponentially since last fall. Thus, while in-person workshops are not currently an option, the Court is open to holding additional workshops remotely, using Microsoft Teams, if members of the media express interest.