Whatchu doing with our Rights, Virgin Radio?

criminal law

How a Toronto-based radio station makes light of the presumption of innocence, every week.

One of the cornerstones of our justice system is the presumption of innocence. It’s a constitutionally protected right that is supposed to guarantee an individual all the blessings and grandeur of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ In reality, that’s rarely the perspective that people have— unless of course you’re a criminal defence lawyer.

Most people— the public and news media alike— often assume that anyone who has been arrested must be guilty. Otherwise, why on earth would they have been arrested? Cue Guy Paul Morin reel.

Assuming that every accused person is guilty is not only problematic and adverse to our constitutional principles, but when it’s perpetuated by the media, it becomes a cringe-worthy and embarrassing display of the lack of appreciation and knowledge many have for this fundamental principle of justice.

While courthouse news can be interesting, titillating, dramatic and even humorous, such overt disregard for the presumption of innocence manufactured in a pithy, minute-long radio segment is offensive to the integrity of the justice system.On Virgin Radio’s 99.9 in Toronto, there is a segment entitled “Whatcha doing at the courthouse?”  that’s played during the Tucker in the Morning daily radio show. Essentially, a radio host stands outside a Toronto courthouse, and asks individuals walking in and out of the courthouse what they’re doing there. The host asks about the nature of the charges individuals are facing, and then proceeds to asks questions such as:

What did the cop say to you when he came to the window?

What were you caught with?

So crack was the next logical step?

Can you tell me the whole story: I’m fascinated by this?

You know these people (referring to the complainants)?

So how did you get caught?

How did they find out that you were in possession?

So your suspended license from 5 years ago gave them cause to search your car for anything else?

Did you know you had [drugs] in there?

Did you say anything before they started searching you?

How did you find out that they found something?

These are questions a lawyer should be asking these people in private. Instead, this radio host is compromising the strength of people’s criminal cases that are presently before the courts for the sole purpose of radio entertainment, and presumably ratings. Almost every time the host asks a question, embedded in the question is a presupposition that each individual was caught. The host seems to be blind to the concept of having a right to silence or the fact that these individuals have legal interests that they need to protect. The host asks them to share details about their charges, without a lawyer present, which are then broadcasted to hundreds if not thousands of people. In one instance, the host even describes what an individual looks like that day, and what he’s wearing.

Almost every time the host asks a question, embedded in the question is a presupposition that each individual was caught. Some may say that these individuals are answering the questions voluntarily, and that they are confessing their sins to this radio host knowing full-well they are being recorded by a radio station. That very well may be so. But are they making an informed decision? Has it been explained to them that they could be charged with perjury, lose possible defences, and incriminate themselves in incidents that the Crown may otherwise not be able to prove? Has anyone told them that their on-air statements could cost them thousands of dollars to litigate in court if the Crown got a hold of them?

While courthouse news can be interesting, titillating, dramatic and even humorous, such overt disregard for the presumption of innocence manufactured in a pithy, minute-long radio segment is offensive to the integrity of the justice system. At the very least, an informed host, well versed in the criminal justice system, should have been chosen to host the show. Instead, there are recordings, like the one that aired on March 6, 2017, where an accused discloses that he’s been charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking:

“P to the P,” the accused thinks it’s called.
“You sure it’s not P to T?” asks the host.

It’s P for P, guys. Possession for the Purpose… of trafficking.

If Virgin Radio is going to pry into the lives of accused people in the Toronto courts and exploit the comments of non-legally trained individuals for fun, at the very least, we should expect that the host has done his homework. At this point, I would even settle for an undertaking by the host to engage in a couple Google searches of fundamental human rights.

Melody is a criminal defence lawyer with the firm Caramanna Friedberg LLP, located in Toronto, Ontario.
About Melody Izadi

Melody is a criminal defence lawyer with the firm Caramanna Friedberg LLP, located in Toronto, Ontario.


A Publication of CPLEA