The BCCLA has received notice from B.C.‟s Attorney General that he will investigate whether aboriginal people are adequately represented on B.C.‟s jury pool list. Research by the BCCLA following revelations in Ontario of systemic underrepresentation of aboriginal people on jury pool lists there led to concerns that B.C. had similar issues.
“Juries are essential to our justice system. Our highest court has said that the right to jury trial is a „substantive right of great importance‟ and that „It is extremely important to our democratic society that jurors as representatives of their community‟ decide civil and criminal cases. That requires that juries reflect the community as a whole,” noted Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “We‟re pleased the Attorney General is taking this seriously. We look forward to hearing the results of his investigation.”
The BCCLA found that the policy provided to Sheriffs in B.C., who compile the jury pool list, required Sheriffs to contact “unenumerated” reserves within 100km of the Sheriff‟s office. Elections BC said that there is no such distinction for reserves, and a representative for the Sheriff‟s office said that he was not familiar with the process actually being used.
The BCCLA was contacted after the initial media release by a retired Sheriff who was responsible for compiling the jury list who advised that unless aboriginal people lived off reserve, it was very difficult to get aboriginal names for the jury pool list due to difficulties enumerating on reserve. He also advised that in his experience, having the local Sheriffs ask reserves for band member lists would not be successful.
“Having juries represent our diverse communities must be a priority for everyone — government, aboriginal groups, courts, and our Association,” said Holmes. “We hope the Attorney General‟s investigation identifies how well we‟re doing, and if we‟re not measuring up, takes action in consultation with First Nations groups to ensure we live up to our ideals.”
The BCCLA has offered its full support to the provincial government in this investigation.
Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, 604-838-6856
David Eby, Executive Director, 604-630-9752 or 778-865-7997