Ontario reveals juries given secret background checks

Jul 21, 2009 11:37 AM

Courts Bureau

The province’s chief prosecutor is pledging to dig up cases where secret jury background checks were made and notify the defence lawyers involved.

In a letter to the province’s defence lawyers, John Ayre says he has asked two senior managers to review all available Crown files over the past three years in the Barrie and Windsor areas, where the practice has chiefly taken place and has led to three mistrials.

"Where it appears that any type of background check was conducted and the information was not disclosed, defence counsel of record will be notified and provided with disclosure of any available material," Ayre says in his July 14 letter.

A ministry spokesperson said that the notices are going out this week.

Defence lawyers have predicted a slew of appeals in the wake of revelations that police conducted secret background checks on prospective jurors at the behest of prosecutors.

Ayre’s letter was in response to one from Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, who demanded that the ministry "collect and preserve all relevant information regarding the extent and duration of the practice across the province."

Addario told the Star that he accepts Ayre’s pledge at face value.

"The disclosure of what happened and where is an important ingredient to resolving the uncertainty that hangs over cases affected by the practice," Addario said.

Crown prosecutors in Barrie and Windsor have had jury panel lists with notes beside prospective jurors about minor infractions, health records and even their attitudes to police.

Ontario’s privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, has ordered a probe.

In his letter, Ayre said that a number of defence counsel across the province have already been making inquiries about specific cases.

"They have been given a response, or a response is pending," Ayre said.

On May 26, Ayre issued a memo reminding Crowns that it is not acceptable to check prospective jurors for anything beyond whether they have indictable – the most serious – criminal offences.

Criminal lawyer Ben Fedunchak is raising the issue of juries vetting in the Barrie murder trail of a youth convicted of stabbing 14-year-old Brayton Bullock in 2006.

Fedunchak, who represents the youth who was about to be sentenced, last week asked Justice Alfred Stong for the verdict to be thrown out largely on the basis that the Crown secretly vetted potential jurors. The case returns to Barrie Superior Court on Aug. 25.


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