Efforts to change jury selection could see results within a year, Senator Murray Sinclair says – Manitoba

A team of people working on making changes to the Criminal Code, specifically surrounding jury selection, could have results within the next year, says a senator from Manitoba.

Last month, Senator Murray Sinclair said he intended to lobby lawmakers in Ottawa for concrete changes to the Criminal Code after a Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man.

Now Sinclair says he’s assembled a team of people to start working on changes to the Criminal Code, and that he’s spoken with Justice officials about what kind of changes he’d like to see happen.

“It probably won’t be easy. It won’t be quick, but this time next year I expect we’ll have some results,” he said, after delivering a speech at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg on truth and reconciliation.

After the not-guilty verdict, Boushie’s family members went to Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others to talk about changes to the way jurors are chosen in Canada.

During jury selection, Stanley’s defence team excluded five potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous. CBC News has not independently determined the reason for their exclusion.

Currently, defence lawyers and Crown prosecutors can exclude people from juries in Canada without having to give a reason.

That’s done through a long-standing procedure called a “peremptory challenge,” which critics say can lead to discrimination or biased juries.

The federal Justice department had already undertaken a study of peremptory challenges when the verdict in the Boushie case came down, but on Feb. 12 Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said changes would be coming soon, though she was not specific about when.

Said Sinclair: “I think we’re going to start initially to talk about the jury selection process and the fact that you can have a jury in a part of the country where 50 per cent or more of the population are Indigenous people and yet so few people who are Indigenous actually made it into the pool of people eligible for the jury — just eligible.

“Maybe moving jury trials into the communities is our answer, as they do in Nunavut, as they do in the Northwest Territories.”

He said at this point in time, the team he has assembled is looking at the results of the 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba.

The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry was called in response to two cases — the killing of Helen Betty Osborne in 1971 and the killing of Island Lake Tribal Council executive director J.J. Harper in 1988.

Peremptory challenges were used in the Osborne case, eliminating six Indigenous people from the jury panel.

The inquiry recommended getting rid of peremptory challenges.

“First of all, we have 12 jurisdictions, 13 jurisdictions with all the territories, that have jury selection processes that we have to address, but we also have the Criminal Code,” said Sinclair.

“At this point in time, we’re still picking up on the ideas I wrote about in the … report back in 1991 that we need to identify.”

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