OPINION: When observation affects what is observed

I’m aware that covering criminal court proceedings can impact lives and sometimes the proceedings too

There is a theory integral to quantum mechanics that says observing certain phenomenon actually changes the phenomenon.

I use this not to talk about particle physics (we’ll leave Schrödinger’s cat another day) but as a metaphor for what we do at the newspaper.

One of the tenets of journalism is to report on what is happening, but don’t become part of the story. Sometimes being somewhat part of the story is OK, even necessary. Usually not. Most hard news coverage requires a reasonable distance and unbiased balance.

So it’s always uncomfortable, when observing a newsworthy event, to be dragged into it.

I was sitting in BC Supreme Court room 202 at the Chilliwack Law Courts this week watching part of the ongoing, seemingly neverending case of David Paul Kuntz-Angel, who is charged with sexually assaulting a girl for a decade from the age of eight until she became an adult about two years ago.

• READ MORE: Underage sex trial for Chilliwack David Lee Roth impersonator continues

Kuntz-Angel – who has several aliases – is a musician with an unusual history of pretending he is David Lee Roth to anyone who might believe him.

As he spoke on the witness stand during a portion of the trial this week, he mumbled, and appeared to struggle speaking. He looked to be in some pain or discomfort.

That’s when he brought me into it.

He told the judge: “Forgive my speech, I had a number of teeth knocked out since I last came in here.”

Later in the proceedings he expanded on that: “Things Mr. Henderson printed in the paper, I ended up getting my teeth knocked out from that.”

He has also blamed Crown counsel for malicious prosecution and me for reporting on the case that he believes should never have been prosecuted in the first place. He even thinks the Crown and I have colluded in all of this.

Some have joked that if Mr. Kuntz-Angel is guilty of what he is accused of, he deserved to get his teeth knocked out. I tend to disagree, leaning to a distaste for vigilante justice no matter how satisfying it might seem.

And while he may blame me for his troubles at Surrey Pretrial, I’m not sure that’s fair. Still, I don’t like to become part of the story. At all.

This week I also reported on Andrew Mullaly, a 37-year-old man who admitted to sexually and mentally tormenting a girl for five years starting when she turned 11.

• READ MORE: Young girl sexually, mentally tormented for five years by Chilliwack man

This week, a family member came to speak to me in my office, asking me to pull the story from our website. I added that the story was an accurate depiction of what happened in court during a joint submission, so there was no reason to take the story down.

“You can’t unring a bell,” I also told her, pointing to the story’s inclusion on Black Press websites across B.C., not to mention social media.

“But that’s not the whole story,” she said.

I’m sure it isn’t.

I can’t report on everything I hear in court, not that “everything” comes out in court anyway. All I can do is curate what is most newsworthy but also summarizes a case in, admittedly, overly simple ways.

The court stories I write are the tip of the iceberg. Most of what’s beneath the surface is left unshared. Much of the time you don’t want to see what’s below the surface. Trust me.

But people have the right to know what goes on in the courts, how crimes are investigated by police, how charges are approved by Crown counsel, how lawyers defend their clients and how judges make decisions.

I say “how” but it isn’t really the “how,” it’s the “who-what-where-when” and, if we are lucky, the “why.”

We only have so much space and time, readers only have so much time and interest, so the best I can do is tell readers some of what happens in some criminal court cases some of the time.

I’m not out to sensationalize anything. I’m not out to ruin anyone’s life. And I’m not writing about court process to be a jerk, either to the victims of crime or to the accused.

Yes, there is always more to the story. And I do understand that reporting on court can affect people’s lives and can even, sometimes, affect the cases themselves.

That doesn’t mean the public proceedings of our criminal justice system shouldn’t be shared.

And that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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