Opinion: Justice reform can’t just be knee-jerk

There has been considerable talk recently about reforming the justice system. The talk has become particularly shrill following the Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine murder trials in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The federal justice minister has said she plans to eliminate peremptory challenges because, in her mind, not enough Indigenous people were selected for the juries. Peremptory challenge is the right of attorneys during jury selection to reject a certain number of potential jurors without stating a reason.

Both the elimination of peremptory challenges and restrictions on preliminary inquiries are ideas that have been around for many years. I remember debating the Law Reform Commission proposals on these issues 30 years ago. There are still good reasons for changing these procedures and for leaving them alone.

Many people have, for example, suggested that in case of Gerald Stanley, who was accused of murdering Boushie, the outcome would have been different if there had been Indigenous people on the jury.

And yet, in the trial over the death of Fontaine, the outcome was an acquittal despite the fact that there were Indigenous people on the jury.

In comparing these two cases, it’s obvious that peremptory challenges had nothing to do with the outcomes.

People who have said that the way peremptory challenges are conducted need to be changed, including members of Parliament and lawyers, have, in fact, reasoned that every person on the jury was racist and unable to separate the facts of the case from their values.

It is, in fact, insulting to Indigenous people to suggest that they will convict non-Indigenous people simply for racial reasons. Indigenous people are as capable as anyone of separating the facts of murder case from their values.

The result in the Fontaine case puts a lie to the notion that Indigenous people are unable to separate these two fundamental things. The case, in fact, proves that Indigenous people can be as diligent and impartial as anyone.

The Fontaine case is also relevant to the discussion around the restriction of preliminary inquiries. In this case, there was a direct indictment. This means that the Crown opted to skip the preliminary inquiry stage and go directly to trial. Preliminary inquiries are used to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to go to trial.

It’s quite possible, once the facts were revealed in a preliminary inquiry, that the case would not have proceeded to trial. If that had happened, everyone would have been spared considerable emotional pain and the expense of the trial.

How would getting rid of the preliminary inquiry be an improvement?

Obviously, the answers to the peremptory challenge and preliminary inquiry policies are not clear cut. In the coming months, a number of people will debate these tough issues, hopefully in an intelligent and impartial manner.

And, just as hopefully, the decision in Parliament won’t simply reflect today’s crass political considerations.

Even so, there is the real issue of rural crime in Western provinces. Saskatchewan newspapers have, in fact, discussed this issue with much more candour than the Globe and Mail, for example. These newspaper editors and editorial writers have on-the-ground knowledge of the issues.

Although rural crime is committed by people of all ethnic backgrounds, unfortunately, it’s a particularly severe problem in rural areas that are close to some – though not all – First Nations. Whether Toronto editors like it or not, a Saskatchewan male resident of a First Nation is 33 times more likely than a non-Indigenous male to be convicted of an offence. Manitoba numbers are similar.

The rural crime statistics reflect differences in conviction rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents. It’s impossible to have a meaningful discussion about rural crime on the Prairies, in areas that are near some First Nations communities, if alarming statistics like this are ignored.

Before we can understand the outcome of the Boushie and Fontaine murder trials, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people need to be able to candidly and intelligently discuss this important fact.

Good policy is dependent on a good understanding of the facts and logic, not on the racial background of jury members.

Troy Media columnist Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Just Posted

Cannabis facility proposed for Clearwater County

Cannabis production facility proposed south of Caroline would produce 30,000 kg of cannabis a year

Two Central Alberta country singers are finalists in career-launching contest

They will attend music industry ‘boot camp’ this summer

Transit changes to aid Burman University students

An additional evening trip and student bus passes to be in place by fall

WATCH: Province, Maskwacis Cree Nations sign educational agreement

Funding and support will help the First Nations develop a Cree-based curriculum

WATCH: Red Deer celebrates World Refugee Day

The Central Alberta Refugee Effort hosted multiple events around Red Deer Wednesday

New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP

LAS VEGAS — Taylor Hall has won the Hart Trophy as the… Continue reading

Red Deer high school student psyched for SHAD

Lindsay Thurber’s Kaden Nivens will head to Newfoundland for the annual program in July

Red Deer College team tackles lack of Indigneous inclusion in research projects

A local college research team has completed a lengthy project examining the… Continue reading

Officials make case against parents accused of child abuse

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Prosecutors made their case Wednesday against a Southern California… Continue reading

Manitoba educational assistant sentenced to 3 1/5 years for sex with student

WINNIPEG — A former educational assistant in Winnipeg has been sentenced to… Continue reading

Conservatives can ‘win anywhere,’ Scheer says in welcoming Richard Martel

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer welcomed the newest member of his… Continue reading

Fans grieve as detectives search for XXXTentacion’s killers

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — For hours, the fans came in a steady… Continue reading

Canadian steel not a national security threat on its own: US commerce secretary

OTTAWA — The U.S. commerce secretary says Canada is not a national… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month