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Juries under scrutiny

Editorial Obiter

The shooting death of Colten Boushie and subsequent acquittal of Gerald Stanley — who was charged with second-degree murder in connection with Boushie’s death — has raised outrage and ire across the country.

The angry response has led federal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to tell media that there could be “changes to the Criminal Code to eliminate peremptory challenges” of prospective jurors but that work had to be done with the provinces on inclusion of indigenous people in the jury pool and improving the relationship with communities.

These calls should seem familiar to Ontarians.

In February 2013, an independent review by Justice Frank Iacobucci on First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries concluded that change was required.

“The need for a collaborative approach to develop a proper jury roll process for First Nations peoples on reserve is viewed as a necessary step forward in a respectful relationship,” said the report.

This week, Law Times reports that defence lawyers say if there is a goal to achieve more diversity among jurors (including greater inclusion of indigenous jurors), then changes need to be made to how jury rolls are put together and not just a focus on the method of jury selection in court.

“Jury panels often are not very reflective of the community,” says defence lawyer Tyler Smith. This is troubling news indeed.

The way potential jurors are currently selected in Ontario, based on voters lists from the the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, is problematic. The fact that a potential juror would have to disclose they had been found guilty of an offence such as “pretending to practise witchcraft” or “engaging in [a] prize fight” under the federal Criminal Code is also problematic.

The Stanley case is an important chance for the federal government, and each province, to look at  — and potentially shift — how representative their jury selection process really is.

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