‘Knee-jerk reaction:’ Lawyers worry about proposed changes following Colton Boushie case

Changes stem from the aquittal of Gerald Stanley in the death of 22-year-old Cree man in 2016

Gerald Stanley enters the Court of Queen’s Bench for the fifth day of his trial in Battleford, Sask., on February 5, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)

Legal experts say proposed changes to the Criminal Code after a high-profile acquittal in the fatal shooting of an Indigenous man are short-sighted.

Key changes in a federal bill, which has passed third reading, involve peremptory challenges during jury selection and use of preliminary inquiries. Peremptory challenges allow lawyers to remove a potential juror without giving reasons.

Calgary lawyer Balfour Der, who has worked as both a prosecutor and a defence lawyer for 38 years, said the proposed changes are a knee-jerk reaction in part to the acquittal by an all-white jury of a Saskatchewan farmer in the shooting death of a 22-year-old Cree man.

“It’s a reaction of the government to satisfy an interest group which may have been complaining after this,” he said in a recent interview.

“I can’t imagine anything less helpful in jury selection to both sides than to have no peremptory challenges. You’re not just looking for a jury of your peers but you’re looking for an impartial jury.”

READ MORE: ‘Justice for Colten’ rally draws dozens in Vancouver after not-guilty verdict

READ MORE: Mountie believed to have posted to Facebook saying Colten Boushie ‘got what he deserved’

Visibly Indigenous potential jurors were released during jury selection for Gerald Stanley’s trial. The farmer said he accidentally shot Colten Boushie in the back of the head when a group of Indigenous youths drove on to Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016. He was found not guilty of second-degree murder in February.

The verdict triggered a backlash across the country. Boushie’s family, academics and politicians said the acquittal underscored the systemic racism in the justice system and called for changes, specifically to jury selection.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould agreed. She said removing the challenges would make sure juries were more representative of the Canadian population.

“Our criminal justice system must be fair, equitable and just for all Canadians,” Wilson-Raybould said at the time.

Lawyers would still have the right to challenge a potential juror for cause, but the legislation would empower the judge to decide.

Der, author of a textbook on jury law, said banning peremptory challenges would mean you could “get stuck with the first 12 people who say they’re ready, willing and able to be jurors.

“I don’t know how that’s going to get more First Nations people on juries.”

Lisa Silver, a University of Calgary law professor, who appeared before the parliamentary standing committee that examined the bill, said the Stanley verdict was the result of several factors.

“To take away peremptory challenges is not the full answer,” Silver said. “Some defence lawyers suggest that they’ve used peremptory challenges when they’ve had an Indigenous client and it’s been to their benefit.”

Silver, Der and Calgary defence lawyer Alain Hepner said a better solution would be to change the way a prospective jury pool is selected. That list currently comes from voter registrations, drivers licences or identification renewals.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun, starts show run at Ladysmith Little Theatre

Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun will run from March 5 to March 22

LSS students lift each other up for Anti Bullying Day

Schools across the nation come together to unite against bullying on Feb. 26

Inked magazine cover hopeful receiving strong local voting support

Chemainus Secondary grad and Ladysmith resident a strong contender for the top prize

LSS improv teams finish second in Vancouver Island competition

GISS from Salt Spring Island will advance to the national competition

Saskia and Darrel deliver high volume of Canadian content

Songs with great storylines to be featured in Chemainus performance

B.C. residents in Wet’suwet’en territory have right to police presence: Public Safety Minister

Nevertheless, Bill Blair said officials remain ‘very anxious’ for the barricades to come down

What’s happening: Coronavirus forges on, as world hunts solutions

Japan closes all elementary, middle and high schools until spring holidays in late March

RCMP to stop providing security for Prince Harry and Meghan

Public safety minister says RCMP has been helping UK police intermittently since November

RCMP, hereditary chiefs reach deal to end police patrols of Wet’suwet’en lands

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

Should you shave your beard to stop COVID-19? The U.S. CDC has a guide

Facial hair could be a big no-no if COVID-19 reaches pandemic status

First arrests made at BC Legislature after Wet’suwet’en supporters spray chalk on property

Legislature security arrested two people, allegedly for mischief

Canada’s 13th coronavirus case confirmed as husband of 12th patient

More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 have occurred since the virus emerged in China

Shuswap boy wins hockey stick from NHL hero with rock, paper, scissors

Chase’s Payton Koch’s exchange with Minnesota Wild’s Kevin Fiala caught on camera

Nanaimo woman leaves friend’s home, now considered missing

Ashley Sheppard, 31, has not been heard from since Feb. 10

Most Read