Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members. We're glad to be here and to be invited to speak to the work of this very important committee.
Really, we appear today on behalf of the 1,400 members who are part of our organization, which includes criminal defence lawyers and also academics in Ontario and otherwise. We hope to persuade you to consider making recommendations to amend the bill as it currently exists and to also consider suggesting that aspects of the bill not be passed at all.
By way of introduction, we have been critical of the bill, but there are many aspects of the bill that we think are laudable and heading in the right direction, aspects that you've heard about from other witnesses, such as amending the proposed bail provisions; the concept of judicial referral hearings; giving the discretion to judges not to impose the victim fine surcharge; increased case management powers; and, finally, bringing criminal justice into the century that we practice in by taking advantage of video conferencing. Obviously, these are all positive things that will assist in the orderly, timely administration of criminal justice throughout Canada, but there are aspects of the bill that we find particularly troubling.
We have outlined those submissions in the paper we've provided you in advance. Many other people will speak to many of the things we've outlined, but today, in the brief time we have, the 10 minutes before we are asked specific questions, we would like to talk about the proposed jury selection amendments.
Again, we want to acknowledge at the outset that the government's acknowledgement of the potential problems in the jury selection process and the goal to bring more fairness and transparency to the process are laudable. Eliminating discrimination in the jury selection process and ensuring that jurors are truly representative of the community where the crimes are alleged to have occurred is a goal that we wholeheartedly support.
The goal of addressing systemic racism or discriminatory practices within the jury selection is similarly shared by our members, but unfortunately, as we look at the means that have been chosen, they fall far short of what's required and, if adopted, will not actually assist in addressing the problems.
We view ourselves as significant stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice. We believe that, like all significant stakeholders, we have a responsibility to ensure that community members who become jurors decide the case fairly, objectively and without prejudice, bias or favour for either party, whether it's the accused or the Crown prosecuting the case.
The race, gender, nationality, socio-economic status or other descriptor of either the accused person or the victim of crime has no role to play in terms of what the result in a criminal case should be. Discrimination or improper stereotyping has no place in the courtroom or in jury deliberations, or in the way in which juries are chosen.
The way in which jurors are chosen not only has to be substantively fair, but it has to appear to be fair. The appearance of fairness with respect to the jury selection process is very important. This includes having a diverse pool from which the jury can be chosen.
Recent high-profile cases have raised questions about whether the current procedure, including the use of peremptory challenges, meets that standard, particularly in relation to the appearance of fairness. We don't need to name the cases that get named all the time with respect to this issue, but let's just be clear. No one was entitled to have a biased juror. No one was entitled to have a biased jury in favour of the accused or in favour of the Crown.
That is no doubt the impetus for this really significant change. When the minister came and spoke to you most recently, she described this as a significant, substantive change to the law, and we agree. The difficulty is that in terms of eliminating the peremptory challenges without some of the other proposed ways that academics and practitioners are telling you to consider, changing the jury selection process will not help the system. It will not lead to diversity and in fact will leave us without the opportunity to protect our clients, who are most often racialized, indigenous or other marginalized people. These are the bulk of the people who come into conflict with the criminal justice system.
The unfortunate reality is that although racialized and indigenous persons are overrepresented in the criminal justice system as accused persons, their communities are unrepresented in the jury pool from which the jurors are chosen to decide a case. In communities with large indigenous populations, there are often very few indigenous people who ultimately come before the court as part of the jury pool from which 12 men and women from the community are chosen to decide a case. Even in large urban centres like Toronto, the pool of eligible jurors does not reflect the diverse Toronto urban community.
There are many reasons for this, some of which can be dealt with through legislative action that is missing in the proposed bill.
First, although this is not within the purview of Parliament, the way in which people are summoned for jury duty—which is left to the provincial governments and has been done by relying on property tax assessment rolls or on other areas—leads to a situation in which a case does not actually draw the representative, diverse community wanted in the jury pool. Historically, this leads to the exclusion of people like renters, boarders, and low-income people—people who might be considered to be on the margins of society but who nonetheless reflect our communities. It also leads to the exclusion of indigenous jurors. You have many submissions before you from groups that speak to this issue, not simply from the Criminal Lawyers' Association. One of the problems is that the pool from which juries are chosen is not diverse.
Second, which this committee knows particularly well, is the failure on the part of provincial governments to compensate jurors properly for their time in court. It was the subject of a report that this committee released in May. One of the recommendations you made is important with respect to this issue.
Just imagine how this plays out in practice. People get excused from the jury pool on the basis of financial hardship. Anyone living day to day in Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatoon or in more rural communities who cannot afford to take time off work to serve on a jury pool is going to be excused, and so should they be. You don't expect people to go into financial ruin to serve on the jury pool. What does that leave you with? It leaves you with some unionized people whose unions are smart enough to negotiate compensation. It leaves you with a lot of retirees. It leaves you with very wealthy people. You're not drawing a representative sample in terms of the eligible people who can in fact serve on a jury.
When it comes to dealing with the issue of peremptory challenges, the collective experience of our members is that when an accused person is a different race or colour or looks different from most of us in this room, who are white, it's important that potential jurors be asked questions to determine whether there are racial stereotypes or biases that will affect the way they will adjudicate the evidence vis-à-vis our clients. This is normally done through a challenge for cause process. You have all the background information on this. Jurors are basically asked one or two questions so that someone can decide—some other two people who are chosen from the jury pool—whether they display bias such that they should be removed from the jury.
As a consequence of the lack of diversity in the jury pool, peremptory challenges are used each and every day by responsible criminal defence lawyers in this country to try to get deeper into the jury pool in the face of having lack of diversity on the jury. When you're looking out at a room of 200 people and your client is a young black man from the city of Toronto, and you see five, six or 10 people who, by the time those with financial hardship are weeded out, are actually eligible to sit on the jury, you're trying to find someone diverse on that jury.
As I said, we're not interested in bias or partiality. What we're looking for is to have someone in the room who is representative of the actual community. That's the way our members are using peremptory challenges. It's the only tool we have in our tool kit to get deeper into the jury pool to try to improve the diversity of the jury. Sometimes people can get through a challenge for cause—for reasons that are difficult to explain—even if they do display signs of bias. I know the new legislation will give a judge the power to control the challenge for cause, but again, peremptory challenges allow a lawyer to try to shape the jury in such a way that actually encourages diversity.
There are three things this committee should consider:
First, it should consider providing a more robust statutory challenge for cause, based on evidence. This means taking an evidence-based approach to determining how the jury is chosen and asking modest questions of the jurors to determine whether or not they display potential bias.
Second, it should consider inviting submissions from the parties. Professor Roach, whose submission you have before you, speaks to this issue as well, and I know you're going to hear from other academics on this issue. There seems to be a myth being perpetuated that the practitioners are at odds with the academics on the issue of jury diversity or on the issue of peremptory challenges. We all want the same result. It's how you get there, at the end of the day.
Third, it should consider forcing the provincial government to create mechanisms to have representative jury pools. Because of the division of powers, the only way to do that is with the proposed amendment that we suggested for subsection 629(4), which would be a new provision that would allow for a challenge for cause based on the lack of representation in terms of the jury pool that's been assembled.
If the provincial governments won't act, then this government needs to act. It needs to create a challenge for cause process and provide compensation for those jurors. Your recommendations were welcome before, and they will be welcome again, but let's go further. Let's suggest transfer payments to the provinces so they can compensate people, or do whatever is needed. With all these very smart people running our collective governments, perhaps we can compensate people so that the poor, the marginalized and the racialized are not excluded.
We have a lot to say about the legislation otherwise, but I do appreciate this opportunity to speak to you directly about the jury issue.
Thank you very much.