On the eve of a second-degree murder trial in Hamilton, in which a white rural homeowner stands accused of killing an Indigenous man, prospective jurors were screened for racial bias.
The makeup of juries has been a polarizing issue in Canada − particularly following the Colten Boushie trial in Saskatchewan in February, in which an all-white jury acquitted a white farmer in the point-blank shooting death of a Cree man.
On Monday, prospective jurors were asked one by one whether the racial undertones of the Hamilton case, one that many have compared to Mr. Boushie’s case, would pose an issue. Peter Khill and girlfriend leave the Hamilton courthouse for lunch during jury selection for his second-degree murder trial, on June 11, 2018. Khill is accused of second-degree murder of Jon Styres, a First Nations man who was shot in February, 2016. “Would your ability to judge the evidence in this case without bias, prejudice or impartiality be affected by the fact that the deceased victim is an Indigenous person and the person charged with this crime is a white person?” the defence and the Crown took turns asking.
Of the 60 prospective jurors who stood before Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero, two admitted to potential bias.
Peter Khill, then a 26-year-old millwright and former military reservist, was inside his rural Binbrook, Ont., home on Feb. 4, 2016, when, around 3 a.m., he and his girlfriend heard someone outside.
Mr. Khill went outside to investigate. There in the driveway, 29-year-old Jonathan Styres, a father of two from Ohsweken, part of the Six Nations reserve, was shot and killed. The judge said he was “in or near” Mr. Khill’s truck.
At the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton, family and friends of both Mr. Styres and Mr. Khill were present.
Though Mr. Khill, 28, has pleaded not guilty, his lawyer Jeffrey Manishan has yet to lay out what his defence will be.
The trial is expected to last between three and four weeks. Many of the prospective jurors gave reasons for why they could not commit to serve, including one man who was excused because he said he believes the justice system is “extremely flawed.”
After the remaining prospective jury members were screened for racial bias, each one was asked to stand and look Mr. Khill in the eyes. Here, the Crown and the defence were each given a limited number of opportunities to reject the prospective juror, without having to give an explanation. While each juror must be accepted by both sides, they can be eliminated by either. On Monday, roughly 10 were “challenged” between the two sides.
It is this stage of the selection process − known as “peremptory challenge” − that some legal experts say has been exposed as problematic. Jonathan Styres, a father of two, from the Ohsweken First Nation, was shot and killed in February, 2016. Though the racial makeup of any jury is difficult to discern (only names, addresses and occupations are provided to the court), the process allows lawyers to weed people out based on their appearance − as was the case in Mr. Boushie’s trial.
Mr. Boushie, 22, a Cree man from the Pheasant First Nation, was shot in the back of the head by Gerald Stanley, a 56-year-old white farmer on his rural Saskatchewan property, in August, 2016.
After a two-week trial, the all-white jury acquitted Mr. Stanley; the defence had argued that the shooting was accidental; the result of a fluke “hangfire.”
The verdict drew outrage across the country and legal experts said it exposed fundamental flaws in Canada’s jury-selection process, after all the Indigenous members of the jury pool were “challenged” and weeded out […]
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