Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is not ruling out eliminating the use of peremptory challenges in the justice system following the acquittal by an all-white jury of a white farmer in the shooting death of a young Cree man.
Speaking with reporters following a meeting with the family of Colten Boushie on Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould was pressed about what the government can do to address systemic racism in the Canadian justice system, including the use of peremptory challenges by lawyers to dismiss potential jurors without cause.
Often, that can be done on the basis of a potential juror’s race or sex. In the recent trial of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley on second-degree murder charges in Boushie’s death, it led to the early dismissal of several potential Indigenous jurors from the selection pool and to the formation of an all-white jury.
Boushie was 22-years-old when he was shot in the back of the head and killed in August 2016 on the rural farm belonging to Stanley.
Protests erupted across the country following Stanley’s acquittal. Many pointed the finger squarely at the use of peremptory challenges as among the factors contributing to what they have described as a failure of the justice system.
“The discussion around peremptory challenges is something that we are considering,” Wilson-Raybould said when asked what measures could be considered to correct systemic racism in the justice system. “We can consider eliminating peremptory challenges.”
However, Wilson-Raybould stressed the government has not made any decisions at this time and that further discussions are needed.
WATCH ABOVE: ‘This is not right’: Colten Boushie’s brother reacts to verdict
For example, she said engaging more with provinces and territories to find ways to better include Indigenous people in jury pools will be important as will discussions around the fact that many areas of Canada are extremely remote and that not everyone selected to be part of a jury pool turns up or can be contacted.
Wilson-Raybould also cautioned people from interpreting the lack of specific action right now as the government not taking the need for criminal justice reforms seriously.
“We’re going to be moving forward responsibly but we are moving forward, and we will have more to say on specifics in the future.”
The family of Boushie also spoke with media on Tuesday, saying they were pleased with a series of meetings held with the prime minister and cabinet ministers over the course of the day and felt that their concerns had been heard.
“The most significant thing is that there was a general consensus that there are systemic issues regarding Indigenous people in the justice system and that each person has promised to work with us to make concrete changes within the justice system,” said Jade Tootoosis, the cousin of Colten Boushie.
“That’s exactly what we came here for.”
She also touched on some of the criticisms that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould have received in recent days for expressing condolences to the families and saying that changes need to be made to address discrimination in the justice system.
Some critics have suggested such comments could potentially prejudice an appeal of the acquittal if one were to come about.
However, Tootoosis said she did not think that was the case.
The way I see this is they’re human beings and they’re acknowledging that Colten was a human being,” she said. “That’s them reaching out as human beings and connecting with our pain.”
WATCH ABOVE: NDP calls for more diversity on juries following Colten Boushie verdict
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, formerly a criminal defence lawyer, also addressed the use of peremptory challenges in a press conference earlier on Tuesday.
He said he was considering whether the party should take a position on abolishing peremptory challenges but has not yet done so.
Singh noted that in cases like Boushie’s, the question is not only whether the process unfolded according to the rules, but also whether it was seen to be fair by those watching the trial and court process play out.
“There’s also an appearance of justice and when you don’t have representation from an entire community, it reduces confidence in decisions that are made,” he said.
The House of Commons agreed unanimously on Monday evening to hold a debate on the experiences of Indigenous people within the Canadian justice system.
That debate is set to take place on Wednesday.
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