Transparency Around Jurors and Verdicts Would Help Trial Fairness.

AuthorMcKechney, Robin
PositionFeature: Juries in Canada

To many observers, the verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial was wholly unsatisfactory. From the outside, an acquittal in the shooting death of the 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie seemed unthinkable: he had been shot in the back of the head, while sitting unarmed in a vehicle. The trial became a referendum on the justice system and race, as it played out in an area of Saskatchewan where racial tensions between Indigenous people and White farmers were already high.

The difficulty, however, is that in asking a criminal trial to be a barometer of race relations, we are asking it to do a job it was not designed to do. A criminal trial is not designed to answer any question other than whether the Crown can prove the offence charged beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a fact-specific inquiry made on the basis of the evidence at trial. Juries are strictly warned that evidence from outside the courtroom is not to be used or considered. In the context of the Stanley trial, this includes perceptions about race relations in rural Saskatchewan.

Although it is tempting to conclude that the verdict was not based on the evidence, to do so is to accuse the jurors of acting in bad faith. The only conclusion that can be reached from the verdict is that the jury had a reasonable doubt that Gerald Stanley's gun accidentally misfired. No more, no less.

Of course, the reason that it is tempting to ascribe a nefarious motivation to the jury is that the trial took place in front of an all-White jury, a result of the defence having used peremptory challenges to reject certain jurors. This jury composition has naturally led to speculation that the verdict was the product of racism, but this is conjecture at best. In fact, jury research in the United States has demonstrated that in criminal trials that are racially charged, jurors are more attentive to bias than in other trials. If this is true, the jurors in the Stanley trial may have had an increased sensitivity to ensuring that bias did not play a role in the result.

The most unsatisfactory part of the Stanley trial is not the verdict itself but the fact that we will never know the reasons for it. The gap in our knowledge has been filled with unverified assumptions that are unfair to the 12 jurors but are the inevitable by-product of a system that allowed the jury to be composed in the way it was. The result was not unfair but it feels unfair, which demonstrates why reform is critical.

This is not a criticism of the defence strategy, as...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT