Dozens of Calgarians were summoned for jury selection — immediately — during lunch hour at a downtown Calgary mall this week, invoking a rare procedure imported from England.
Alberta officers issued 50 summonses to people who were at the Core Shopping Centre on Thursday, documents which required the recipient to at once go to the Calgary Courts Centre, a few blocks away.
The unusual course of action was enacted after the court realized the jury pool wasn't big enough for an upcoming trial, as too many jurors were exempted due to several factors, said Donna Spaner, a prosecutor in jury selection who was at the court on Thursday. Among those factors were summer vacation and the subject matter of the trial, according to Spaner.
That resulted in a Queen's Bench justice issuing the summons in order to fill that gap, she said.
"The court clerks and the sheriff went over to the mall, and just started handing members of the downtown lunch crowd these summons that required them to attend the courthouse," Spaner said.
"I'm 20 years in, and I've not seen it before." - Donna Spaner, Alberta jury selection prosecutor
"I can tell you with certainty a number of people whose Thursday afternoon was inconvenienced were not particularly thrilled."
She said the justice did a good job of keeping the afternoon "as efficient as possible" and recognizing the imposition it had on people.
"But looking at it from the perspective of someone who's involved in the system, it really is remarkable that someone accused with an indictable offence … can have that much influence on a community," she said.
"I'm 20 years in, and I've not seen it before."
Balfour Der, criminal law defence attorney and criminal law textbook author, said the procedure that was invoked on Thursday is called Talesman, and it was imported to Canada from England.
"They are just people who have not been subpoenaed. They are just picked off the streets and brought in to be part of the potential pool of prospective jurors who could be picked for a particular jury."
But those searching for a soft pretzel or a new pair of shoes shouldn't be afraid of going to the mall — Der says it's rare that a potential jury supply is completely depleted for an upcoming trial.
"It is very rarely used. It's very rare that you ever exhaust a panel of prospective jurors, but it can happen."
Last used 26 years ago
A spokesperson for Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the last time the procedure was enacted was 1996 in Calgary and December 2020 in Edmonton.
"Section 642(1) of the Criminal Code provides the presiding justice may … summon people from nearby locations to fill vacant positions on a jury when the jury panel has been exhausted before a full jury is selected," the statement read.
In this case, 80 potential jurors came to court for jury duty and there weren't enough people to select two juries. The first jury was selected but the second was short six jurors, so additional people were needed — one to two hours of their day was taken up, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said if the people who were brought in on Thursday are selected to serve as a juror they would be required to return to court for the trial.
"Trial by jury is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system. Implicit in the right to a jury trial is that the jury will be chosen randomly, and will be impartial and representative of the larger community. Jury management works hard to avoid the need to rely on the Talesman procedure," the spokesperson said.
"Unfortunately, and as mentioned above, the number of potential jurors exempted in the days leading up to and on the day of jury selection ultimately resulted in its use."