- Published on Monday, 19 April 2021 21:31
April 19, 2021
TO Ontario Bar Association
Criminal Lawyers’ Association
Association of Law Officers of the Crown
Ontario Association of Senior Crown Attorneys
Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association
Law Society of Ontario
FROM PT CRAO Executive
SUBJECT ZOOM/Teleconference Audio recordings
PT CRAO is a not-for-profit business association with membership spanning across the Province of Ontario. Through 55 years of operation, PT CRAO membership has adapted and evolved to meet many challenges. Our mandate has never changed. We are committed to ensure the profession of court reporting and transcription services are provided to the highest professional standard possible in both the private and public sectors. Over the decades, many traditions, relationships, and technologies have changed, and the profession has withstood each challenge head on. Now, we have COVID, and we face the biggest challenge ever.
The PT CRAO executive team has been tracking various articles and opinions about how COVID has pushed modernization of the courts. Unfortunately, modernization has gone straight to ZOOM and teleconference calls as a way to continue in a virtual world that COVID created and digital audio recording technologies have been pushed backwards to primitive standards.
We say this with all seriousness. Everyone who has a vested interest in the justice system - judges, Crowns, lawyers, every stakeholder from the top down, decisions-makers - have completely overlooked the most important foundation of the justice system: the official court record. The public would and should be outraged if they only understood exactly what that means. The official court recording is the only checks and balances to the entire justice system. Without a stable audio recording, properly preserved and securely stored so that a certified transcript can be produced, there is no accountability. A certified transcript cannot be produced where audio is obscured or lost. Lost or obscured words cannot be substituted by something, “it might be”. That's not the measure. We work in absolutes, the truth, not what might be, or what was maybe said, or "...that might be something that someone wanted to say, I'll put that in there". We can't do that, no one can regain lost audio, lost words. The voice of a victim, or a witness to a crime once their words are lost because the audio is lost, their voices are no longer heard, there’s no record. It's that important. Without a safely preserved audio recording of every spoken word, anyone can say whatever they want, even judges, and there can be no challenge. No one should be above the law, and no voice should go unheard or be lost.
Here we are in April 2021, and the official court recording, the most important foundation of the justice system, has become a one channel ZOOM or teleconference chat line. This could not be more backwards or more primitive. All speakers on one channel from multiple unknown remote locations. On one channel you cannot separate speakers if they talk over one another. That's lost audio. On one channel, if there is nothing to identify same gender speakers, then they are simply noted as UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE/MALE VOICE. ACTS or transcriptionists can't guess who's speaking. That would be too risky. Dogs are barking, babies are crying, doors slamming. One judge was presiding in his kitchen while the sound of his wife washing dishes is audio recorded in the background. There are bail hearings where lawyers are sitting in their cars on cell phones in parking lots participating via teleconference; the audio recording cannot pick up what they are saying. People actually laugh at what's going on. More times than not, transcripts cannot reflect where anyone is, because locations are not identified. Sometimes participants phone in so they are
not visible, often from custodial institutions, sometimes they appear via ZOOM, but the most the transcript can reflect is that they are all participating from multiple unknown locations. Here’s another virtual solution, there are examples of Bell recordings of family court proceedings being uploaded into a DRD to store the recording, which is likely located in someone’s living room, and then converted to .dcr files. There’s a reason why the Bell audio recording has to be converted to a .dcr file, but that is a separate concern.