Jody Wilson-Raybould, former Justice minister and attorney general of Canada, worked hard to eliminate barriers to diversity in jury duty selection through Bill C-75 while she was in office. The Bill, which was “An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts” has helped to mitigate systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system.
“While considerable progress has been made, our justice system remains a living testament to many of the discriminatory policies and practices of our past, a past which continues to negatively impact Indigenous Peoples and communities as well as vulnerable populations across Canada,” Wilson-Raybould says in one of many inaugural speeches on public policy, further stating that the reshaping of laws and policies based on recognition of Indigenous rights will have a fundamental positive impact on the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the criminal justice system.
Yet there is still so much more work to be done, particularly in the area of jury duty selection. By now we should all know who Gerald Stanley is. It is coming close to the day four years ago that Stanley was acquitted of the murder of Colton Boushie in 2017. Bill C-75 was implemented into legislation a little too late as it was just after the Boushie trial that changes were implemented in the justice system. As such, we still saw the failure of the courts as Kent Roach, a professor of Law at the University of Toronto tells us that there were only five Indigenous peoples identified as prospective jurors out of hundreds of potential jurors. However, those five were removed from the jury selection process in the early stages.
In his role on a Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, Murray Sinclair spoke on the subject stating that the “exclusion of Aboriginal people from the jury fueled public concern that racism might have played some part in the trial.”
Many Indigenous people are often excluded from sitting on juries, not for bias or partiality reasons but for hardship, language, travel and accommodation difficulties, and past criminal sentences. Additionally, familial relation or connection to the accused or the victim result in exclusion — particularly in smaller Aboriginal communities where a crime may have occurred which is often the case in the NWT.
There is a need for diversity in the jury selection process and Bill C-75 has made efforts to improve this. One way is by amending the challenge for cause grounds based on a juror’s criminal record. Previous to the Act, a sentence of more than 12 months imprisonment would exclude a juror, but it has since been pushed back to two years which addresses concerns that the original rule disproportionately excluded certain segments of society from serving on jury duty if they were charged with petty crimes.
This is all to say that while most of us want to get out of jury duty, it is an important responsibly. Just think, had there been more ethnic diversity on the jury for Colton Boushie, Gerald Stanley would most likely not be a free man today and Colton would not have been portrayed as just another Aboriginal criminal. Ultimately, justice would have been served.
It has always been my belief that juries in trials involving Indigenous people should be structured with at least 50% of the jury being aboriginal.