‘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

Just Posted

Pole-climbing thieves pilfering wire in Parksville Qualicum Beach area

Repairs are costly and thefts jeopardize public safety

Green Party leader Elizabeth May talks eliminating fish farming in open ocean pens

May stops in Qualicum Beach as part of Island campaign

Qualicum Beach council discusses helping out Orca Place residents

Town considers offer of temporary jobs in the future

Winter preparation underway for mid-Island highways

Drivers reminded to ready vehicles for changing conditions

‘Dirty Money’ in Nanoose Bay: Dr. Peter German to speak at ElderCollege

‘This is an evolving study’: presenting up-to-date information on B.C. organized crime

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

Scooter rider suffers life-threatening injuries in crash in Nanaimo

One person airlifted to hospital in Victoria after collision on Wall Street on Thursday

Campbell River homicide suspects arrested in Vancouver

Two men remain in custody, but have not been charged

Canucks beat Stanley Cup champs 4-3 in a shootout

Leivo nets winner, Vancouver dumps St. Louis for fourth straight win

‘The more you test, the more you find’: Beef recalls a sign of success, experts say

Despite appearances, experts say a recent rise in major recalls is not a sign of food supply problems

Talk to your kids about vaping, B.C.’s top doctor says

B.C. health officials have discovered the first vaping-related illness in the province

Alberta truck convoy plans counter-protest at climate rally with Greta Thunberg

United We Roll organizer says similar protest planned for Swedish teen’s event in Edmonton

Green Party leader Elizabeth May rolls through Vancouver Island to boost a party stronghold

Mocks media, evokes Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and promises change

With $4M investment, Camosun College offers first sonography program on Vancouver Island

Starting in May 2020 students from Vancouver Island can pursue a career in sonography

Most Read