Ontario Court Lays Out Social Media Policy

by Jordan Richardson on December 21, 2012

Ontario’s Superior Court has gone ahead with a social media policy that is expected to lay the framework for how policy in this contentious area will go forward.

Back in October of this year, I reported on the current hodgepodge of policies that govern social media in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Court Technology was pushing for the permission of anyone attending open court to use an electronic device as long as it was “set on silent,” although any standard publication bans would still be in play.

The Ontario policy does nothing to impact a national standard, something that continues to be in clear need, and is actually one of the last Canadian provinces to produce a social media policy.

Ontario’s directive will slide into place on February 1, 2013, and essentially allows electronic devices in “silent mode” in courtrooms by counsel and journalists to transmit what are being called “publicly accessible live communications.” The judge can rule otherwise at his or her own discretion.

The public, as you might have noted, is left on the outside looking in with respect to this particular policy. They are not welcome to use electronic devices, including computers and personal electronic devices, unless the judge gives them permission.

As you may recall from my October article, Saskatchewan currently allows for “accredited journalists” to use electronic devices in its courts. The province of British Columbia has a similar policy. Both provinces have run into trouble with definitions of “accredited journalists,” however, and this is where a national standard could step in to ensure consistency and adequate terminology.

The Ontario Superior Court policy makes no mention of “accredited journalists” and so broadly defines (or doesn’t define) “media and journalists” that it may be difficult to determine exactly who falls under that umbrella and who doesn’t.

There have been some attempts at hammering out social media rules on a case-by-case basis, with judges taking matters into their own hands. The trial of Larry O’Brien, the former Ottawa mayor eventually acquitted of “influence peddling,” saw tweets allowed in the courtroom. And the London, Ontario, trial of Michael Rafferty enabled tweeting in the overflow courtroom only.

Once again, a national standard would approach these issues with consistency. While the judge would still have the final kick at the can, so to speak, the rules governing tweets and statuses and everything in between could certainly use an update.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSSTwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

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