TORONTO - Canadians have never been able to watch courtroom dramas unfold in their living rooms the way American viewers, fed a steady diet of televised justice like the O.J. Simpson trial, have come to expect.

But now, Ontario, Canada's largest court system and the only one in the country to specifically legislate a ban on cameras, is opening the door to delivering trials to the public via the small screen.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Ontario's attorney general says he's open to the idea of allowing cameras in courtrooms and says the time is right to canvas judges, Crown attorneys and defence lawyers on their opinions.

"I'm interested in the views of people as to whether we should move forward," Chris Bentley said.

"I'm open. I know in the United States we see things televised all the time. There's very much a culture of televising. Society doesn't seem to have fallen apart as a result of it (although) we're probably a long way from that reality," he added.

"I am prepared to speak with the judiciary about their interest in having the discussion at this point in time, where we would go, and canvass the views of other participants in the justice system."

A report commissioned by Bentley's ministry to evaluate the success of a 2007 project that temporarily put cameras in Ontario's Court of Appeal branded the pilot an overwhelming success, and the vast majority of those canvassed recommended expanding camera use to all Ontario courts.

The report was completed in 2008, but was never made public.

Obtained by The Canadian Press through a freedom of information request, the report recommended the attorney general amend the Courts of Justice Act to allow the use of cameras in Ontario courts, saying their images have "great potential" as a learning tool for students and lawyers.

Media said the cameras promoted transparency and reduced the risk of errors and bias in reporting. "They also stated that the DVD record is a significant improvement on the current tools of the trade, which are limited to notepads, a BlackBerry and an artist's sketch pad," the report said.

The only caveat was the potential that sensitive information could be released inadvertently and the high capital cost of installing the cameras.

The $365,000 pilot project webcast 21 cases in the fall of 2007.

Only one of the cases generated media interest -- that of William Mullins-Johnson, who was wrongly convicted of killing his four-year-old niece -- but the court's website saw a "dramatic increase" in public visits during the project, the report found.

Cameras were also allowed in that year for Steven Truscott's appeal of his 1959 murder conviction.

Bentley and a ministry spokesman raised several concerns surrounding cameras in courts, including privacy, especially of children and victims; the safety of participants; security; the administration of justice and costs.

Other concerns put forward in the cameras-in-courts debate include: a potential chill on witness testimony, grandstanding by lawyers who like to mug for the cameras, the potential distraction to trial participants and TV coverage that might focus only on sensational cases, thereby diminishing the dignity of the courts.

But Peter Kormos, a lawyer and the justice critic for Ontario's New Democrats, says having cameras in courtrooms would bolster the openness of courts and accessibility to justice.

"It brings us into the 21st century and I think people who are concerned -- as we should always be -- about confidence in the justice system would want to see televised trials as quickly as possible."

Kormos said there are simple ways to address concerns such as privacy, as courts already protect the identity of alleged young offenders and sexual assault victims.

The Court of Appeal pilot project was borne of a recommendation in 2006 from a panel on justice and the media, with representatives from print and broadcast journalism, lawyer and police associations, the assistant deputy attorney general and an Appeal Court judge.

The idea was by no means new. For decades, advocates for an open justice system have been pushing to get cameras in courts.

CBC lawyer Daniel Henry has been at the forefront of that push and in a 1985 paper he wrote on electronic public access to court he advances many of the same arguments he is still making today.

"In Canada today, despite eloquent statements by eminent jurists about the value of an open court system, our court proceedings are not truly 'public,' " Henry wrote in 1985 in favour of having cameras in courts.

"We now have the means to change that."

Now, 26 years later, Henry said he still thinks it's inevitable that cameras will one day allow the public to watch proceedings in Ontario courts. Slow as it may be, Henry said, the trend is certainly moving in that direction, especially with the proliferation of cameras in smartphones and other technology.

"The reality is that we all communicate audiovisually from virtually every part of our lives," he said.

"There are very few parts of our life that don't involve this form of communication and it's hard to believe that courts would be...a bastion isolated from the coverage that we are all used to."

A significant case involving cameras in courtrooms will play out this month in British Columbia, where a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled television and web cameras will be allowed to film final arguments in the constitutional case about Canada's anti-polygamy laws.

Several other appeal courts across the country have allowed cameras in on a few occasions, but there is no place in Canada where it is accepted as a regular practice in a trial setting.

In Newfoundland, cameras are allowed in courtrooms up until the time the judge enters.

The only court in the country that regularly broadcasts proceedings is the Supreme Court of Canada. However, it recently upheld a set of rules limiting where journalists can film in Quebec courthouses.

Ontario is the only province with a statute specifically banning cameras in courts, Henry said.

The justice and the media panel recommended in 2006 that cameras be allowed in the Appeal Court and in lower court proceedings at which no witnesses are to testify.

"The people of this province will have an opportunity to be eye witnesses to important aspects of the justice system in action," the panel concluded.

"Whether they watch for inspiration, education or even entertainment, they will be observers of a historic process, which is a critical element of our democratic system."

From a journalism perspective, being able to use visuals from inside court would make it much easier for television reporters to tell those stories, said Andy LeBlanc, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

"Having the ability to do that you may see more television coverage of more court cases if we didn't have the sort of limitation of video," he said.

"I think it's a good service for the public to be able to see with their own eyes how court hearings go on."