Jun 4/96: Gustafsen Lake-Jury of peers?


June 4, 1996

SURREY, B.C. - On Monday, June 3rd in the Supreme Court located at Surrey, British Columbia jury selection continued for the trial of the Ts'peten Defenders (Gustafsen Lake Standoff). Five jurors had been picked by the end of the day when Judge Josephson heard the motion put forward by Defense Lawyer Harry Rankin 'challenging the jury array'. Questioning the Senior Deputy Sherriff for New Westminster, John Norfolk, Mr. Rankin established that in order to satisfy one of the basic requirements for an impartial jury, that of representation, the Sherriff had contacted 20 bands and 18 native organizations for lists of aboriginal peoples to add to the jury pool. Even with this effort, only 52 aboriginal people were summoned out of the total of 3401 summons issued. Of those 52, only 4 or 5 native people were in the pool of 400 eventually available for jury duty for the trial.

Not only were the number of native people available way lower than the 20% required for fair representation, those native people who had been discovered were added to the pool by extraordinary measures not covered by the jury act. The jury act requires that the jury pool be established through a random sampling of the population and the sherriff's activities though based on a desire for fairness compromised the spirit of the act. Mr. Rankin pointed out that if the trial had been held in Kamloops a random sampling would have naturally provided a good percentage of native people without extra effort. The efforts of the sherriff, Mr. Rankin claims, requires a re-paneling of the jury pool.

In considering the fact that the change in location had been in response to a need for more security, Mr. Rankin pointed out that this supposed need for security had also led to a less representative jury. The Defense lawyer went on to point out that "security had become a fetish", that "security was an industry" and that "Canada was a very secure country" making it clear that he felt that the focus on security was foolish, unneccessary and led to a less than adequate jury pool. As well, the security precautions also prejudiced the potential jury members against the defendants. The Judge was quite taken aback by the Defense argument and declared that it would take several days for him to make a decision. Jury selection continued thoughout Tuesday with the Judge reserving his decision until Wednesday. It is a difficult decision for the judge because it gives very good appeal grounds to the Defense should the case continue. If the Judge decides for the Defense motion, the trial has to be halted and a new jury pool impaneled. Unfortunately if the jury pool is constituted through the required random sampling, then there will be a problem with representation in that there will probably be almost no native people at all for the jury. The Defense very much wants the trial moved to Kamloops since it is so difficult for the Defendants to live in Vancouver for the lengthy stay required by the trial. Most are of limited means and have farms and jobs to keep up.

The process of jury selection begins with randomly selecting two members from the jury pool who then sit in on the questioning by the judge of potential jurors. The two selected jurors are called triers and decide if the potential juror being questioned is acceptable or unacceptable in terms of how they answered the questions put to them. If the triers find the person acceptable, the lawyers are then allowed to accept or reject them. Each defendant has the right to make 12 challenges which the lawyers act upon in the name of their clients. If a lawyer has more than one client, then he or she has 12 for each client. In this case the Defense and the Crown each have in excess of 200 challenges so that jury selection was expected to take a considerable time. However, during the first day, 6 jury members were selected by 3:30pm when one of the jurors realized that she could not serve due to a previous committment. The Judge agreed to dismiss her which left 5 jurors already chosen.

Forty jurors were questioned in the morning session and thirty-five in the afternoon one. Out of the total of seventy-five, only 10 stated that they had already decided on the guilt or innocence of the accused because of the media coverage and they were found unacceptable for jury duty. Ten others did not understand English very well and two or three others had hearing problems. Of the remaining group, several faced overwhelming hardship if they took 3 months out of their lives to serve on the jury. The Judge has stated that the trial is now expected to start July 8th and last until the end of September and could go well into October. There is a break in early August for two weeks which spectators have joked is so the judge can go fishing.

One of the jurors who was acceptable to the triers was challenged by the defence lawyers which was too bad because as she left the court room she smiled at Defender Ron "Paintball" Dionne and said "Good luck."

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