‘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

Fires ignite on Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie; Kamloops Fire Centre blazes holding

Crews working throughout region over holiday weekend to contain wildfires

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Fourteen blazes sparked in Kamloops Fire Centre

Lightning the suspected cause of all fires but one; cause of Solco Creek blaze remains unknown

Revelstoke Hay Rd. development inches closer to reality

There are still a couple more steps required until the project could be approved

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Reported Big White wildfire dubbed ‘smoke chase’

Crews responded to the area but could not locate a fire

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Wildfire in West Kelowna’s Rose Valley grows to 3 hectares

The fire was first reported at around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 2.

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

Man found dead in van on Okanagan road

Foul play not suspected in death of 39-year-old West Kelowna man found in Vernon Saturday, Aug. 1

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

Most Read