Changes to Court Docket

At the Citizen, we believe a central part of our mission reporting on the local community is to cover what goes on in our courts.

We don't do it to publicly shame the guilty. We do it because a key component of democracy is the rule of law being fairly applied in an open court. Put another way, it's not only justice being served but justice being seen being served.

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For most weeks for many years now, The Citizen has published the Court Docket, the sentencings, mostly in provincial court, for mostly minor offences and the names of the people who committed those offences.

Over time, I've heard from people who were convicted a crime - theft under $5,000, mischief, drunk driving, etc. - years ago and are now having trouble finding work and/or a place to live because their name comes up in a Google search that leads to the court docket. While there are many repeat offenders, there are also many people whose name appears once and never again. Their brush with the courts has the desired effect of motivating them to become - and remain - law-abiding citizens.

Recently, an anxious father came to the office to ask me in person that his son's name be removed from the court docket on our web site for an assault conviction from years ago.

The victim of the assault was the father himself.

He had reconciled with his son, who had turned things around and stayed out of legal trouble, as a search through the court records confirmed.

Starting now, the Court Docket will only remain on our website for one year and then fall away. Longtime readers of the The Citizen will notice we haven't been publishing it since we've become a weekly. Part of that has been space limitations but part of it is the permanence of the print edition, which is eventually digitally archived at the Prince George Public Library. Is there a need for a permanent, easily-accessible public record of an individual's single indiscretion, committed in their misspent youth and/or in a moment of weakness and vulnerability? Many would say yes but I would argue that is not justice, that is spiteful vengeance and a desire for endless public shaming.

I want to stress that stories depicting more serious criminal cases will remain on our website but for the Court Docket, those will expire after one year of their first appearance on The Citizen's website. Court Dockets from 2018 and previous years have already been removed (please email me at ngodbout@pgcitizen.ca if you find one I missed - they had to be individually removed going back to 2011).

People should be given every opportunity to turn the page from their minor misdemeanours, especially if they've already been punished through our legal system. The public also deserves to see that individuals are being held legally accountable for those misdemeanours. Making the Court Docket available for one year is, I hope, a reasonable compromise between those two interests.

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