Federal legislation would reform jury selection process
The federal government has introduced legislation aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system, a measure that makes good on a Liberal promise to change the way juries are selected.
A number of visibly Indigenous people were excluded from the jury that last month acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, 56, in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, 22, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Justice Minister Jody WilsonRaybould tabled a massive bill Thursday that, if passed, will eliminate the use of peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject jury candidates during the selection process.
Speaking through a family friend, Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, said she is pleased about the proposed changes and hopes the presence of Indigenous jurors will translate into more justice for Indigenous people.
The prospect of something good coming out of her son’s death gives her hope for the future, Eleanore Sunchild said on behalf of Baptiste.
The bill includes other measures aimed at tackling court backlogs plaguing the criminal justice system, including by restricting the use of preliminary inquiries to cases where the offender is facing the possibility of a life sentence, such as for murder, kidnapping or aggravated sexual assault.
The Ontario government had advocated limiting preliminary inquiries to an even more limited number of cases — murder and treason — but Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said he is pleased with how far the federal changes go.
Fewer preliminary inquiries would free up resources that would more than compensate for a jump in summary convictions resulting from the extra powers the bill would grant judges to classify some previously indictable offences as summary and therefore directed to the provincial courts, Naqvi added.
The bill will also address a Liberal campaign promise to crack down on intimate partner violence, including by reversing the onus on bail for those previously convicted of violence against a current or former spouse, common-law partner or dating partner.
Intimate partner violence would be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing; the bill would make way for the possibility of higher maximum sentences for repeat offenders.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked Wilson-Raybould with reviewing changes to the criminal justice system and the sentencing reforms the previous Conservative government brought in as part of its tough-on-crime agenda, including the impact on Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized groups.
That effort took on an increased sense of urgency in July 2016, when the Supreme Court imposed strict new limits on how long a case could take to make its way through the system.