Broadcaster fined $6,000
"... we are all subject to the law," says judge

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 27/96) - CBC North Radio deliberately broke a court order last March when it broadcast the name of a sexual assault victim in connection with her abuser's trial.

And despite the woman's death - which came prior to the February trial- the public broadcaster will pay a $6,000 fine, a territorial court judge has ruled.

Lawyers for the broadcaster had said a publication ban doesn't apply when the subject being protected is dead.

But judge Michel Bourassa rejected their argument, pointing out that the CBC still should have sought an amendment of the ban first. "The only thing the defendant had to do is make application to the appropriate counsel," he said.

He found the corporation guilty of breaching the order Nov. 12 and sentenced it Monday morning.

"(There) is resistance in some institutions in acknowledging a greater power," said Bourassa. "But we are all subject to the law."

Crown lawyer Les Rose asked Bourassa to fine the corporation between $10,000 and $15,000.

He characterized the broadcaster as an upstanding corporate citizen, but said they showed a "profound lack of respect for the law."

Rose said allowing the media to break court orders could have a chilling effect on victims and witnesses of sexual assault.

He criticized the broadcaster for its attitude that freedom of the press gives them licence to ignore the court and "damn the consequences."

"The offending corporation is not an unsuspecting player," said Rose. "It was driven by institutional conceit."

Defence lawyer John Bayly took issue with Rose's characterizations.

He said the broadcaster sought legal advice prior to using the victim's name, and did not use it in an exploitive manner. "No harm has been done to the complainant or her family." Bayly suggested a fine in the "lower range" would be justified.

Under the Criminal Code, a corporation convicted of a summary offence can be punished only by a fine, and the maximum fine is $25,000.

Only one similar case has been before the NWT courts, Bayly said. In a 1987 judgment against a local radio station, Bourassa levied a $1,200 fine for two similar convictions.

Bourassa took into consideration the corporation's co-operation in dealing with the facts of the case. But the law is straightforward and unambiguous, he said.

The corporation now faces a second charge of breaking the same court order in connection with a June broadcast.

It pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday morning and is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 10 to set a trial date.