BCCLA Reacts: Supreme Court Upholds Law that Undermines Jury Diversity

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Ottawa, ON (Unceded Algonquin Anishnaabeg Territory): The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is disappointed by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision today in R. v. Chouhan, a critical case about jury diversity. The Court ruled that a law abolishing peremptory challenges does not violate the Charter. Peremptory challenges allow both sides to block potential jurors.

The BCCLA intervened in this appeal to argue that peremptory challenges protect jury diversity. We argued that jury diversity is critical because it limits racial bias and promotes jury impartiality. But Canadian juries are not diverse. White, wealthy property owners are consistently overrepresented on our juries. Abolishing peremptory challenges will make our juries even less diverse and will violate the Charter right to be tried by an impartial tribunal.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington, counsel for the BCCLA, states: “The Court’s opinions are disappointing in some ways and welcome in others. The core holding—that abolishing peremptory challenges was constitutional—is unfortunate, especially for racialized accused who most benefitted from such challenges. And some comments from certain judges as to the limited ability for legal actors to promote jury diversity with alternate mechanisms are unfortunate, particularly given the homogeneity of Canadian juries. That said, the Court was effectively unanimous about the insidious and prevalent character of racism, and the need for mechanisms which combat how that racism manifests in the criminal justice system. For a truly impartial justice system in Canada, then, it will be imperative for Crown counsel, defence counsel, the judiciary, and all levels of government to account for persisting racial inequities in the operation of criminal trials.”

The BCCLA was represented by Joshua Sealy-Harrington and Jennifer Klinck of Power Law.

Media Contacts:

  • Joshua Sealy-Harrington, counsel for the BCCLA, available for comment in English or French
  • Jessica Magonet, BCCLA staff lawyer, available for comment in English or French