The reason there were no Aboriginal Canadians on the jury in this controversial case is because so many deliberately opted out of the process
(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)
By: Candice Malcolm
Almost half of the prospective jurors in the Colten Boushie case were Aboriginal persons, according to one member of the jury pool.
However, the reason there were no Aboriginal Canadians on the jury in this controversial case is because so many deliberately opted out of the process. Other First Nations prospective jurors, meanwhile, were openly and outwardly biased during the selection process, according to one prospective juror who spoke to the Sun.
The witness, who the Sun is choosing not to identify, was present for jury selection in the Boushie case. The person described the scene as a “large gymnasium turned into a courtroom” in Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Media reports state that 700 people received jury duty notice for the case, and of that, only about 200 showed up that Monday morning.
“I sat at the back and got a better idea of who was all there,” said the prospective juror. “On one side of the room, it was primarily Caucasian people, with a few Filipinos, a couple black people, and peppered in was a handful of First Nations people,” the person recalls.
“On the other side of the room, it was maybe three-quarters First Nations people,” the person said, estimating that approximately 85-100 of the initial 200 prospective jurors were Aboriginal.
The person explained the process that day, as a judge asked if anyone in the room wanted to be excused or disqualified from sitting on a jury in this case. Individuals with a conflict – a relationship with either family or a scheduling conflict – could request to be recused from being selected for the trial.
According to the prospective juror, who did not go on to serve on the jury, a significant number of Aboriginal people in the room asked to be disqualified, either because they had a relationship with Colten Boushie’s family or because of other circumstances that made them unavailable.
The person estimates that more than half of the Aboriginal people were granted permission by the judge to be exempt from the trial and free to go home.
As the prospective jury describes, some of the remaining 45 or so were vocal in expressing their bias and signalling to everyone in the room they were unfit to serve on the jury.
“You could audibly hear some of them talking amongst themselves, discussing how they were going to hang Stanley, or they were going to make sure he gets hung, or that if they don’t get the results they want, that they were going to handle it themselves,” the person said of the Aboriginal people who remained. This account comes from one individual who spoke with the Sun, and has not yet been corroborated by other witnesses.
“The thing that was the most shocking to me was the fact that they were so audible from where I was sitting (across the room) and there were police scattered throughout the room. No one stopped them.”
The jury’s acquittal elicited a variety of strong reactions from Canadians online. Over the weekend, lawyers and other experts criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould for issuing social media posts that appeared to criticize the jury’s decision.
On Monday, Wilson-Raybould said changes to jury selection were coming soon. “We are looking at peremptory challenges,” she said, also noting that those changes would aim to “substantially improve the criminal system and the jury selection process.”
But according to the prospective juror, the selection process was random and seemed fair. Of the remaining potential jurors, “everyone was assigned a number and they literally pulled numbers from a bucket. It was totally random,” the person said, whose own number was not selected.
Some media outlets have reported that every prospective juror who appeared to be Aboriginal was challenged and essentially vetoed by the defense council.
The prospective juror also dismissed that idea, suggesting the defence council challenged individuals who had made openly biased comments. Besides, the person added, “they were challenging white people too.”