The Gerald Stanley trial has highlighted the need for possible changes to how juries are selected in Canada according to some legal experts.
Early in the trial, Colten Boushie’s family spoke about how they felt the system was biased because of the standard practice of allowing lawyers to veto or exclude certain jury members.
Called peremptory challenges, both Crown and defence lawyers have 14 opportunities each to dismiss a potential juror without giving a reason.
Some legal experts say that allows for the presumption of bias in the selection.
“You’re attempting to select a jury that you think is going to be most favourable to your version of events and your own interests,” maintained Steven Penney, University of Alberta law professor. “There can be a reasonable perception that it works an unfairness and that members of certain types of communities or individuals with certain types of characteristics are being discriminated against.”
Penney much prefers the “for cause” challenge which can also be used by lawyers.
In those cases, a potential juror can be asked about their biases through a series of agreed-to questions and then dismissed because of an issue of suitability.
Studies have shown there is an underrepresentation of Indigenous people in jury pools in Canada which is thought to be for a number of reasons.
“Geographic remoteness, the representativeness of the databases that are used to choose potential jurors,” Penney explained. “Studies show that Indigenous Canadians are less likely to respond to jury summons for logistical reasons, resource reasons, in some cases it has been suggested that there is a reluctance to participate in the criminal justice system based on a feeling of alienation or mistrust of that system.”
The jury in the Stanley trial was selected from a pool of 250 people.