The media should be able to identify the girl killed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary two years ago, Black Press Media has argued in an application sent to the BC Review Board.
The application, which was sent last week by the Abbotsford News, has been welcomed by a representative for the girl’s family, who have said through a spokesperson that they feel the ban limits their ability to share their daughter’s story. The News has not applied to lift a publication ban in effect on the identity of a second person wounded at the school.
The two students were stabbed in November 2016. Their attacker was quickly identified and arrested, but has since been declared unfit to stand trial by the BC Review Board. A publication ban was placed without notice on the murder victim’s name when the case moved from criminal court to the Review Board, which periodically reconsiders whether the accused is fit to stand trial.
In the application, which was sent by reporter Tyler Olsen and crafted with the assistance of legal counsel, The News argues that the ban contravenes the “open court principle” that presupposes courtrooms should be open to the public and information reportable.
Under the principle, courts should be open to the public unless doing so would jeopardize administration of justice or compromise the rights of the interested parties and public.
“While publication bans are sometimes necessary, it’s important that the media fight to uphold the open court principle,” Ken Goudswaard, the editor of The News said. “That principle allows the public to better understand their justice system, and the media to hold accountable those involved in the process.”
There is no such reason to ban publication of the victim’s name, and no application was made to institute the ban in the first place, the News argued, pointing to legal precedent.
The application also argues that the BC Review Board doesn’t have jurisdiction to institute publication bans on the identity of victims and that, even if it did, it had an obligation to give media outlets advanced knowledge that it intended to implement such a prohibition.
Finally, The News notes that a publication ban on a victim’s name inevitably shifts the focus of news coverage towards the accused. At the same time, media scholars and victim rights groups have argued in recent years that coverage of mass-casualty events like school shootings should focus on victims, rather than the perpetrators. Widespread use of publication bans, The News argues, would make such an approach difficult, if not impossible.
The application was welcomed by Dave Teixeira, who has been acting as a spokesperson for the family. In September, he said the publication ban was “muzzling” the girl’s parents, who dislike the fact that coverage of the case has been dominated by the name of the accused, rather than that of their daughter.