Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the federal government is discussing the rules on how juries are formed across Canada after a Saskatchewan jury with no visibly Indigenous members acquitted a white farmer in the shooting death of a young Cree man.
Speaking with CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould was careful not to question the verdict in the trial of Gerald Stanley, who was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie, 22.
Instead, she spoke generally about how juries might be more inclusive.
“I’m not speaking specifically on the jury in this particular case. What I’m talking about is the broader discussion on jury reform and how the federal government can inject itself in jury reform,” she said.
Before the Stanley trial began, the defence team rejected all five visibly Indigenous candidates presented for jury duty.
The process was legally sound. At the moment, Canadian law allows Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers to reject any potential jurors without explaining why.
The practice, known as a preemptory challenge, has been criticized for giving lawyers a limited number of vetoes that can be used to reject unwanted candidates, for which they’re not required to give a reason.
Wilson-Raybould said the federal government is “having a conversation” about the jury selection process, an issue that Boushie’s family raised in a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday.
“Not only are we having the conversation about jurors and the appropriateness, or the composition of juries, but we’re having the necessary broader conversations about what is required to make our justice system fairer and more equal for Indigenous peoples and other marginalized people in the country,” Wilson-Raybould said.
The minister did not promise concrete measures to reform the jury selection process.
‘A national conversation’
During the trial, the court heard that Boushie was fatally shot in the head while sitting in an SUV on Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask. Stanley testified that he fired several warning shots before reaching the vehicle to try to pull the keys from the ignition.
That’s when, according to Stanley, the fatal shot “just went off.”
Last Friday, the jury found Stanley, 56, not guilty.
Since then, “Justice for Colten” rallies have been held across the country, from North Battleford, Sask. to downtown Toronto.
Wilson-Raybould acknowledged that the acquittal hit a nerve with many Canadians.
“What the Colten Boushie trial and the outpouring of support for that family brings up and highlights is a national conversation about jury selection, about whether or not reforms are required, repealing the pre-emptive challenges that are in the criminal code. These are discussions that we’re having,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale also met with Boushie’s family at Parliament on Tuesday, where the family urged the Liberal government to take steps to transform the system that continues to incarcerate a disproportionate number of Indigenous people.
“To hear them speak so openly about their experience is something that I will never forget,” said Wilson-Raybould, who is Indigenous herself.
Breaking down systemic barriers
The justice minister vowed to continue working with provinces and territories on “potential changes to jury selection” and the “pool” or jurors that are made available.
“Individuals do have the right to be tried by a jury of their peers. And that is reflective of the communities across the country, in provinces and territories, and this is a really important discussion that this tragic situation has highlighted, and I am committed to addressing,” she said.
Aside from jury selection, Wilson-Raybould said she wants to drill down on systemic barriers within the justice system.
“There’s a lot that we can do. There’s a lot that has been done,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reflected on his emotional discussion with Boushie’s family.
“They are very much focused on making sure we have improvements to our system to make sure that no family has to go through the kinds of things they went through," Trudeau said.
"There is very much a desire to work together on the path of reconciliation on improving the system that is failing far too many Canadians."
Jade Tootoosis, Boushie’s cousin, said the family’s concerns were heard during the closed-door meeting.
“There was a general consensus that there are systemic issues regarding Indigenous people in the judicial system, and that each person has promised to work with us to make concrete changes within the system. And that is exactly what we came here for,” Tootoosis said.
A third-party RCMP watchdog has launched an investigation after Boushie’s family filed a formal complaint about how police dealt with the case, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed Tuesday.
With files from The Canadian Press