On Oct. 30, Honourable Judge Justine Saunders visited Marilyn Assaf’s CREW 201, News Writing and Research class to present an interactive workshop, explaining the role in which journalists play in the Court and Canada’s legal system.
Judge Saunders, provincial court judge located in Nanaimo, co-delivered the upbeat Journalism Students’ Education Program presentation alongside journalist Paul Walton, of the Nanaimo Daily News, who has specialized in crime and court reporting.
Judge Saunders piloted the popular program alongside journalist Joey Thompson. They drafted a tag team approach between judges and senior journalists to help students visualize the parallel responsibilities between judges and journalists, and inform them on how to accurately report crime and court related stories.
I sat down with Judge Saunders to discuss the merits behind the Journalism Students’ Education Program.
Q: Why did you and Thompson decide to draft the Journalism Students’ Education Program?
A: Chief Judge Hugh Stansfield wanted to get an outreach program going between journalism schools and the courts…he really wanted to get an initiative where the courts and [journalism] schools would work together on a student level, but also have seasoned members of the journalism profession as tag team members with the judges going to speak at the schools. It was his vision and then Thompson and I were really keen to work towards it. Intended benefits of the program include creating a greater awareness of the justice system for the students and between members of the judiciary and the media.
Q: What is the greatest benefit of classroom outreach?
A: The ability to interact, for me personally, is just phenomenal. I really enjoy being around students. I enjoy their energy and ideas and I learn a lot from students as well. I learn a lot about my job, myself, and community. I think that it is also really good for me as a judge to also be explaining and humanizing the courts. One of the mandates that we really are working with is trying to make people understand that we are human beings doing a job—and a very difficult job. But at the end of the day we are humans and we are all in this together. I come away every time with something that I think about and incorporate into my day-to-day work as a judge.
Q: What kind of feedback have you heard from instructors and students?
A: Initially we had a data feedback survey that I was handing out. I’ve dropped a ball in that respect because I didn’t do this program last year. We were getting profoundly positive feedback. The response in the first few years was overwhelmingly positive. Not just from the students of course but from the lecturers and the journalists who are part of this team.
Q: What do you think are the parallels between the responsibilities of judges and journalists?
A: I think that the major responsibility of judges and journalists is to serve the public well. In order to do that we need to be responsible in our profession by being objective and focus on maintaining the rule of law to keep democracy healthy. I think that both professions deal with language so we have to be effective wordsmiths.Journalists have an awesome responsibility to disseminate what is going on in the courts to the public at large.