The federal government has introduced legislation aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system, a measure that makes good on a Liberal promise to change the way juries are selected.
A number of visibly Indigenous people were excluded from the jury that last month acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, 56, in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, 22, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled a massive bill Thursday that, if passed, would eliminate the use of peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject jury candidates during the selection process without providing a reason for doing so.
“Our criminal justice system must be fair, equitable and just for all Canadians,” Wilson-Raybould said Thursday.
Lawyers would still have the right to challenge a potential juror for cause, but the legislation would empower the judge to decide.
Speaking through a family friend, Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, said she is pleased about the proposed changes and hopes the presence of Indigenous jurors will translate into more justice for Indigenous Peoples.
The prospect of something good coming out of her son’s death gives her hope for the future, Eleanore Sunchild said on behalf of Baptiste.
The bill includes other measures aimed at tackling court backlogs plaguing the criminal justice system, including by restricting the use of preliminary inquiries to cases where an adult offender is facing the possibility of a life sentence, such as for murder or kidnapping.
That would reduce the number of preliminary inquiries across the country — about 9,100 of them in 2014-15 — by 87 per cent, said officials from the Justice Department who provided a technical briefing to reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The bill, however, does not address another major promised reform to address mandatory minimum sentences, which many advocates have argued also contribute to court delays.
Wilson-Raybould said she still wants to address that issue, but needs more time.
“We are still pursuing sentencing reforms,” she said. “We are going to be pursuing sentencing reforms in a responsible way.