Something should be done to address jury duty dodgers

A jury room at the supreme court building in St. John's. (CBC )

Let’s talk about jury duty. That much-despised civic responsibility in which we are asked to play a role in one of the world’s best justice systems.

Being summoned is viewed by many as an unwelcome interruption of their daily lives and, often, a punishing financial burden. It is ignored by hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadian every year.

And why? Well, most suggest a mix of lost wages and low compensation plays a role in it. Not to mention the hassle of having to listen to people talk all day long. But is it really worth chasing and punishing those who refuse to serve? And if so, shouldn’t something be done to make serving less punishing?

The Canadian Press reports that 15 people will be called to appear before a Supreme Court judge in Halifax after ignoring jury summonses. They face a possible $1,000 fine or even jail time. Other provinces threaten similar punishments.

[ Related: Fifteen in Nova Scotia who skipped jury duty called before judge ]

In 2011, an Ontario judge ordered an inquiry when a murder trial was delayed after too few people responded to jury duty. Further investigation found that between 11 and 20 per cent of all Ontarians who are issued summonses are delinquent in their civic duties.

Superior Court Justice Casey Hill wrote in a judgment there was a “systematic problem” of jury absenteeism, according to the Law Times. He added that jury duty was a well-established obligation and the inconvenience and financial loss was an "inevitably a cost of public duty."

Those selected to serve on jury duty have no protection from lost wages, although their employer is legally mandated to give them time off. And the compensation they receive is minimal.

So how much do jurors get paid? It is not a lot.

In Nova Scotia, jurors receive $40 a day plus mileage. Ontario pays jurors $40 a day once they have served more than 10 days, and $100 for every day over 49.

Alberta provides $50 per day of service, as well as travel expenses and possibly accommodations. The Northwest Territories gratefully pays $80 per day.

Quebec appears to be the best province to serve on a jury.

Quebec residents called to participate in jury selection receive the cost of public transit or mileage and parking costs. They can also receive more than $45 for meals and as much as $138 to cover overnight accommodations.

Those selected to be a juror receive $103 for every day of the hearing and deliberations. That amount increases to $160 on the 57th day of service.

There are bonuses for working into the night and for Sundays and holidays, childcare allowances and psychological therapy after the trial.

[ Related: Judge shoots down ‘unwritten rule’ to remove bra during search ]

Dan Ferguson, a retired Ontario judge, suggests the issue could be resolved by paying jurors more. He even suggested redirecting the profits from confiscating property related to crime toward improving juror per diem.

Ferguson wrote in a Globe and Mail editorial:

Just think about that. Imagine losing your employment income for two weeks. That would be a hardship for anyone. If politicians were told that they would randomly lose their pay for two weeks, you can bet that a special session of the legislature would be called to change the law.

Jury duty shouldn’t be a financially profitable experience. It is a duty, one of the few actual responsibilities we are tasked with as Canadian citizens (don't think about taxes, don't think about taxes).

But jurors shouldn't end up with thousands of dollars in lost wages. Improving compensation could go a long way to improving the negative perception that leads to this absenteeism.

Either that, or change the name of jury duty to "jury party," and watch the lineup grow.