Confessions of a possible juror, part two | Joan Rataic-Lang
Friday, June 24, 2022 @ 9:17 AM | By Joan Rataic-Lang
Some observations about the experience. I live in Peel region, in south Mississauga and am lucky. I was able to drive myself to the Peel courthouse in about 25 minutes. If I did not have a car the Triplinx website tells me it would take approximately one hour and 15 minutes to get there. The first step in the process will be an inconvenience, but if one is selected, imagine the effort of just getting to the trial on a daily basis using public transit.
I was there on time, actually early. The summons said I had to be there for noon, so I was there by 11:40. The sign on the doors to the Jury room said, “Locked until 12:30.” I took a seat with my book and proceeded to be amazed by the pulling at the door, confused looks and general bafflement by other potential jurors.
People continued to arrive well after noon, but as promised the doors were opened at 12:30, and we were all invited to take a seat in large room. Now the 12:30 notice made sense, lots of people arrived after 12. Immediately the court services officers (CSOs) were rushed by those with questions and in need of reassurance. They were gently encouraged to take a seat; all questions would be answered. One of the CSOs explained the check-in process, answered questions, and we all lined up, for the next step.
Our names were never used, from the point on we were identified by our juror number, as it appeared on the summons. I was asked if I was vaccinated, “yes.” Could I come back tomorrow (Friday), if necessary, “yes.” They were not asking if I could come back for four more days, just one. That’s a good sign, they must be getting close to filling the jury. While answering these simple questions I noted that there was a small card for each potential juror.
My occupation (library director) was prominently noted. Those who said they were not vaccinated were pointed to the door. Those who said they could not come back tomorrow were told that they could write a letter to the judge asking for a deferral. I already tried that, so decided that at this point I would roll the dice. It was Thursday afternoon. If they had been calling potential jurors for the trial since the beginning of the week, they might have enough people. If I waited things out, it may go in my favour. If I asked for a deferral again, it would simply push this to another time. And by this point, I was starting to feel my civic duty. If my number was called, and I passed the judge’s scrutiny, so be it.
It was an afternoon of waiting. After everyone was checked in the deferral letters were given to the judge. Soon after that we were allowed a break and told to be back in 20 minutes. When we got back those whose deferrals were accepted by the judge were told they could leave, but they were given one last chance to roll the dice and stay, because they were told they would be called again. And who knows, next time they may have to be there for five days.
By this point I knew that I would accept the responsibility of jury duty, if chosen. The apparent inability to understand the CSO’s instructions, the ridiculous questions and general lack of comprehension by some of the potential jurors had me worried. The lawyers I know told me that if the trial was to be four to five weeks, that meant that it was a murder. Perhaps my biases were coming out, but I truly felt that there were people in the room I would not want making important decisions about someone’s future. How does the judge know? What a weight the judges carry. In a jury trial, they need to make sure the jury is capable of deciding a person’s guilt or innocence. And in a judge-only trial, the weight is completely on their shoulders. How does the judge make fair and equitable decisions, how do they not let their unconscious bias come into play?
After an afternoon of waiting a CSO passed masks around for those who did not have them. A judge came into the room and eloquently thanked us for our time, for our contribution to the justice system. He told us we were part of a jury pool for a murder trial starting in a few weeks. They had just filled the jury, had lots of standbys, but because of COVID, we were not discharged, but were put on standby. When the trial starts July 4 if they do not have enough jurors those of us left in the room can expect a telephone call.
Will I answer the telephone that day? Absolutely. As the juror notification letter says, “Jury duty is the only positive obligation a Canadian citizen is called upon to perform.” If I must, I will do it attentively, carefully and proudly.
This is the second half of a two-part series. Part one: Confessions of a possible juror, part one.
Joan Rataic-Lang is executive director and library director of the Toronto Lawyers Association.
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