‘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

Comox Valley’s drinking water within lead guidelines, say staff

Residents with old homes may still want testing if concerned about pipes, solder

Denman ferry cable to be replaced with plastic cable – for now

The first flattened steel strand cable is expected to be installed late summer 2020

Police investigate serious assault in downtown Courtenay

This is not believed to be a random incident.

Comox Fire Rescue hands out its hardware at annual awards dinner

Comox Fire Rescue recently held its annual awards night, recognizing members for… Continue reading

B.C. politicians view supermodel’s transition journey on Transgender Day

Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite and New Democrat MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert appear in the documentary

My Tech Guys celebrates 13 years in the Comox Valley

On Friday, Nov. 22 My Tech Guys will be holding their annual… Continue reading

B.C. mayor urges premier to tweak road speeds in an ‘epidemic of road crash fatalities’

Haynes cites ICBC and provincial documents in letter to John Horgan

Four arrested after report of shots fired in Nanaimo

RCMP arrest four suspects in high-risk takedown in Cedar

Comox Valley Pipe Band members salute veterans during final B.C. Lions game of season

Nine members of the Comox Valley Pipe Band Society joined other B.C.… Continue reading

BC Ferries’ two new hybrid vessels set sail for B.C. from Romania

Two Island Class ferries to be in use by 2020

B.C. won’t appeal decision protecting ICBC court experts

Change to evidence rules next to save money, David Eby says

Soccer tourney raises money for Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue

The Comox Valley United Soccer League Div. 2 men’s team is hosting… Continue reading

1898 Yukon gold rush photo featuring Greta Thunberg look-alike sends internet into tailspin

Jokes erupted this week after a 120-year-old photo taken by Eric A. Hegg surfaced from archives

Most Read