APTN National News
Jeremy Newborn’s mother looked at the potential jurors in her son’s murder trial and something jumped out to her.
None of them appeared to be Aboriginal like her son.
The second-degree murder trial grinded to a halt, just days before beginning in October 2014.
Newborn’s lawyer wanted to challenge Alberta’s jury selection process.
The argument: Alberta laws do not allow people convicted of a crime to be on a jury – and because Alberta, like many western provinces, has a high rate of Aboriginal people incarcerated, the law was unconstitutional to Newborn expecting a jury of his peers.
Last week, an Alberta judged shot down that argument.
“In my view, even after such closer scrutiny, the exclusion of persons who have committed crimes is properly seen as reasonable and acceptable,” wrote Justice Brian Burrows in his Jan. 7 decision.
Burrows said someone convicted of a crime is likely not going to be impartial.
“The disproportionate effect of the impugned exclusion in the case of Indigenous Canadians points to a shameful feature of modern Canadian society, but it does not cause a jury selected through the application of that exclusion to be unrepresentative; rather, it serves to promote the impartiality of such a jury,” he said.
Newborn has pleaded not guilty to the December 2012 murder of John Hollar.
His trial is expected to proceed in April.
In 2013-14, Aboriginal offenders represented 21 per cent of the total prison population while Aboriginal adults represent three per cent of the Canadian adult population according to the latest federal government statistics.
The constitutional challenge was argued in an Edmonton court in December.
The Crown argued allowing convicted criminals on juries would weaken the public’s confidence.
Alberta is not the only province with such a law, eight others have the same rule.
During the court challenge, Newborn called an expert in statistics and sociology.
Jaqueline Quinless testified a random selection of 178 people, which was the number of people selected for Newborn’s jury array, nine would be expected to be Aboriginal based on Edmonton’s population.
But there wasn’t any Aboriginal people of the 178 selected in October 2014.
Quinless said that could be a result of the effects of colonialism, such as residential schools that the Supreme Court has ruled, twice, is a direct link to the higher number of Aboriginal people incarcerated in Canada.
“(These factors) have also damaged the relationship between Indigenous Canadians and the court system and have resulted in a reluctance on the part of Indigenous Canadians to participate in it as members of juries,” said Burrows summarizing Quinless’ testimony in his decision.
The full decision can be read here.