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

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Highway 1 to look like winter war zone until owners retrieve wrecked vehicles

Tow-truck driver says 30 vehicles still dot snowly landscape, including one rolled-over dairy truck

Charity Clothes2U ready to hand out free items to people in need in Chilliwack

The Clothes2U Winter Giveaway event will be in Chilliwack at Cooke’s Presbyterian Church

Pickup truck motorist drives up vehicle ramp and onto parked trailer on Chilliwack road

The incident happened on Young Road after Chilliwack was handed another dump of snow Friday night

5 to 10 cm of snow still coming to Fraser Valley: Environment Canada

Hard to say when the freezing rain will turn to regular rainfall, Environment Canada says

Chilliwack man who sexually assaulted young boys released from prison

Statutory release for Don Putt who Parole Board calls an ‘untreated sex offender’

Horgan cancels event in northern B.C. due to security concerns, says Fraser Lake mayor

The premier will still be visiting the city, but the location and day will not be made public

B.C. landlord sentenced to two years in jail for torching his own rental property

Wei Li was convicted of intentionally lighting his rental property on fire in October 2017

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Most Read