Call of duty: Jury selection process for Sask. trials evolves during COVID-19

·2 min read

Hundreds of people will converge at TCU Place in Saskatoon on Nov. 16 to learn whether they'll be chosen to serve on a jury at an upcoming trial.

Since jury trials in the province resumed in September, the courts have worked to keep all participants safe during the pandemic. Measures have included mandatory masking and moving trials out of courthouses to larger venues like TCU Place to ensure space for proper physical distancing.

There are jury trials scheduled to begin in November in both Saskatoon and Regina.

During the selection process, potential jurors are asked directly by the presiding judge whether there is any reason they cannot serve. Reasons to not serve can range from a conflict, such as knowing a witness or the accused, to difficulties with getting childcare, to financial hardship.

The province's top Queen's Bench judge said he's not going to issue a blanket guideline for judges to follow when it comes to getting out of jury duty because of COVID-19.

"It would all depend on the reason for it," Chief Justice Martel Popescul said Friday.

"If the person had a viable, significant reason as to why it would be that they feel that they might be unduly compromised, the judge would take that into account and make a judicial decision as to whether or not that person should or should not be excused."

For instance, an individual may have a personal health issue such as asthma, or they may have someone in their immediate circle who has a health issue.

But what if a person is simply not comfortable serving because of the rising COVID numbers?


Popescul said it will be up to the presiding judge to make the call.

"The judge would probe a little bit to find out why it is that you're uncomfortable," he said.

"And the judge would also, in preliminary remarks, remind the jury that there are a number of significant precautions that have taken place, and that will continue to take place, during the trial in order to keep everyone safe."

Popescul said there have been four jury trials in the province since September: two in Regina and one each in Prince Albert and Estevan. He said the Saskatchewan experience is similar to what he's heard anecdotally from his colleagues across the country.

"We found there has not been a significant increase in people wanting to be excused for health reasons, including COVID-19 concerns," he said.