‘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

Kootenay-Columbia candidates attend Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum

About 120 people attended the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum on Oct. 16 at the Prince Charles Theatre.

Province funding $6.5 million for caribou habitat restoration

The money is available through applications for the next three years

Regional district approves proposed Revelstoke adventure park

Ammendments to the Official Community Plan and Zoning Bylaw were needed

Expect rain for the rest of the day in Revelstoke

Forecast from Environment Canada: Today: Showers. Snow level 1,100 metres rising to… Continue reading

Revelstoke engineering firm offering radon testing in support of library fundraiser

Pay $80 for the test kit and $40 will go to the RevLab project

Memorial remembers North Okanagan’s most marginalized

Prayers and flowers for those who have died on the streets

West Kelowna resort denies being fined after six bears destroyed

‘We are good with the compliance,’ said the resort’s operations manager

Workshops give North Okanagan businesses a boost

Small Business Week celebrated by Community Futures

Shuswap voter unhappy with polling times that don’t allow him to vote

Resident thinks with technology available polls should be open more days

Police investigating suspicious fire at Airport Inn in Lake Country

Twenty-four firefighters responded to the call around 2 a.m.

RDOS issues 405 building permits in first nine months of 2019

Construction activity higher this year than during same period last year

Summerland Steam face North Okanagan Knights in two games

Junior B hockey teams compete in regular season action

COLUMN: Province’s hot springs are a gift from nature

What a joy to watch someone slip into the springs and see the stress and strain melt from their face

LETTER: Bylaws needed for short-term rentals

There are still no bylaws in Summerland regarding where short-term rental units are allowed

Most Read