Only through media scrutiny can the justice system be held accountable to the public, a Nova Scotia judge said Friday as he ordered the release of additional evidence in a case involving the alleged sharing of intimate images by teenagers without consent.
Judge Paul Scovil said media scrutiny of government and the courts is essential to upholding a "free and democratic society."
"The ordinary citizen has neither the opportunity nor the ability to spend time observing the workings of our busy court, but our media does," Scovil said in a written decision from Bridgewater provincial court.
"As a consequence, the media should be unfettered in their ability to view and comment on matters before our courts, unless there are very strong legal reasons to limit that access."
Two 18-year-olds and four 15-year-old boys are facing charges of distributing intimate images without consent, and possessing and distributing child pornography.
Last year, the CBC successfully argued for the release of a redacted version of a search warrant in the case, which said police uncovered up to 75 intimate images of teenage girls.
The CBC's lawyer, Nancy Rubin, argued in Bridgewater provincial court in January for redacted portions of the 36-page document to be released.
But Crown and defence lawyers argued it was in the interest of the public and the administration of justice if the information remained redacted.
The redactions included the names of the accused, alleged victims, and the serial numbers and IP addresses of the electronic devices that were seized by police.
Scovil said he agreed with the CBC's submission that journalists would respect the mandatory publication ban on youth names under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
He also agreed the unredacted document may give a clearer picture of how the alleged crimes played out, calling the CBC's arguments "well-founded."
He ordered the information be released to the CBC and other media outlets, with the exception of the name of the student who advised school administrators that intimate photos were being shared. That name will remain redacted.
The Canadian Press has applied to receive the unredacted document.
Charges were laid after Bridgewater police launched a year-long investigation in response to the complaints from Bridgewater Junior/Senior High School administrators, leading to the seizure of a number of electronic devices — mainly cellphones — which were handed over to the RCMP Technological Crime Unit for analysis.
The case is one of the first in Canada involving legislation introduced in late 2013 after the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, which captured national attention.
The 17-year-old attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo of what her family says was a sexual assault was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.
Scovil noted public interest in the Bridgewater case extends beyond the Maritime province.
"There is a national dialogue regarding teens sharing intimate images and its effect," said Scovil in the 20-page decision.
"In Nova Scotia, we do not have to look far to see the devastating effect that the sharing of intimate images can have on a young person."
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press