Wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from each other, prospective jurors showed up at an Edmonton diploma-exam writing centre on Thursday morning in the first jury selection to take place since March 15.
While the office tables and well-distanced chairs may lack the gravitas of a traditional courtroom, the new off-site venues are an important step for Alberta's justice system, which was all-but shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Jurors perform a very important service to the community and to the administration of justice," Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau said in a news release.
"Their willingness to participate in the process of jury selection and jury service ensures the continuation of one of our most important democratic rights, that being, the right to be judged by a jury of one's peers."
The Thursday morning jury selection in Edmonton is for a trial scheduled to begin on Sept. 14. The first scheduled jury trial in Calgary is slated to start on Sept. 28.
Regular operations at Alberta's courts were up-ended in mid-March, with some proceedings being conducted online, trials postponed and limited cases being heard. Jury benches remained vacant.
A provincial assessment of the existing courthouse showed that jury trials could not resume in the existing courtrooms while still adhering to health guidelines for physical distancing.
In Edmonton, jury selection and trials will take place at the Bonaventure Gate Writing Centre, at 13156 St. Albert Trail, while proceedings in Calgary will move to the Stampede Grounds, with jury selections in the Big Four Building and jury trials taking place at the Stampede Grandstand.
Smaller centres will move proceedings that involve juries to off-site leased premises.
The summons issued to people called for jury selection is accompanied by an information sheet detailing the precautions that have been implemented to reduce the risk of coming into contact with the novel coronavirus.
"Screening, physical distancing, mask wearing and sanitation are in place at the off-site court facilities," Moreau said in the news release. "Courtrooms and jury deliberation rooms are designed to comply with the physical distancing and other health and safety recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Alberta."
Each facility has separate entrances for people who are in custody, including the accused and witnesses, as well as private spaces for counsel to consult with clients. Some seating is available in each courtroom for the public and media.