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2013 Atlantic Journalism Awards Finalists


Slug/Label Francis/submission
Date Aired or Published Dec. 11, 2013, Dec. 31, 2013
Media outlet where first aired or published: The Daily Gleaner
Name of Program:
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: Fredericton, N.B.
List awards, grants:
Running time (TV/Radio):

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

Records of a controversial Mountie’s arrest and court proceedings that led to him being remanded for a psychiatric evaluation were hidden from public perusal by a judge’s illegal publication. But I fought that ban, and I revealed what happened in that courtroom for the community to see. Cpl. Ron Francis made national headlines with his story of post-traumatic stress disorder and medical marijuana, but his story took a darker turn Dec. 6 when he was detained in a violent confrontation with fellow police officers. He was charged with assault. He was remanded for a psychiatric assessment, and it all unfolded away from public view. I learned about the incident and connected the dots: a mysterious takedown and the police’s reluctance to talk about it. I quickly confirmed Francis was the one who was arrested, but as I scrambled to put the exclusive story together, I encountered a roadblock. After requesting copies audio/video from the weekend remand court session for Francis that took place Dec. 7, as well as exhibits filed at the hearing, provincial court staff informed me the presiding judge, Mary Jane Richards, had instituted a publication ban on the proceedings. A retroactive publication ban. A ban not requested by either the prosecution or defence. A ban instituted not in open court, but in the judge’s office. An illegal ban. The challenge wasn’t just a legal challenge of the ban – it was making the case to my superiors it was a challenge worth mounting, and worth funding. I prepared a briefing note for management and our legal advisers outlining my arguments (included with the clips of the related articles). Legal intervention was approved. On the line was the principle of an open-court system and the importance of conveying the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on someone who had spent 21 years protecting and serving the public. The Ron Francis story is riveting and for a judge to try to keep details the defence wanted told from the public is appalling. The Daily Gleaner took a stand that day we won and I will keep fighting to ensure judges don't overstep their power.

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

computer, notebook, had to confer with my managers about challenging the ban and then we talked to the company lawyers and got advice on how to challenge it. We challenged it and won. Also needed: one stubborn streak!

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