Toronto, Canada – People in Ontario, Canada, are being excused from jury duty due to financial constraints, according to criminal defense lawyer Sid Freeman. Freeman, who has witnessed this issue in her 30 years of trials, argued that the poor, especially those facing lengthy trials, are rendered ineligible to serve on juries. This lack of socioeconomic diversity results in an unrepresentative jury system that fails to provide equal justice for all.
Ontario’s jury pay is notoriously low compared to other provinces in Canada. Jurors receive no compensation for the first 10 days of service, $40 per day from days 11 to 49, and $100 per day for 50 or more days, although trials of this duration are rare. While employers are prohibited from dismissing employees serving on juries, they are not required to continue paying their salaries. This patchwork system creates an imbalance where some workers can serve on juries while still receiving their pay, while others cannot.
Last year, Freeman attempted to address this issue during the trial of her client, Jacob Alves, who was accused of murder. Freeman argued that the low jury pay violated Alves’s constitutional right to a trial by jury, resulting in an unrepresentative jury composition. However, Superior Court Justice Suhail Akhtar dismissed the application, shedding light on the need to increase jury pay and create a broader cross-section of society in jury pools.
Mark Farrant, CEO of the Canadian Juries Commission, supports fair compensation for jurors and believes that adequately compensating individuals for their time would diversify juries. Currently, retirees, individuals working for large corporations, and those employed in the public sector are overrepresented in juries. On the other hand, defendants often come from lower-income backgrounds, with Indigenous and racialized individuals disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
While some provinces in Canada have increased jury pay to accommodate the rising cost of living, Ontario’s pay rate has remained stagnant since the 1990s. This discrepancy has prompted the House of Commons standing committee on justice to recommend a minimum daily pay of $120 for jurors, adjusted for cost-of-living increases. However, former jurors in Ontario have shared their experiences of financial hardship while serving on juries, with some even facing negative consequences at work.
The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General did not comment on the reason for the low jury pay but acknowledged the challenges posed by long trials. Despite the recommendation to increase pay, Akhtar, the Superior Court judge, expressed skepticism regarding the impact of increased compensation on the number of excusal requests based on financial hardship.
The lack of financial support for jurors sends a discouraging message to the public. While individuals are legally obliged to appear in court for jury duty, they must also have the means and ability to serve. This issue highlights the need for Ontario to invest in its justice system and ensure that citizens have an equal opportunity to fulfill their civic duty.
In summary, the low jury pay in Ontario, Canada, perpetuates an unrepresentative jury system, with financially disadvantaged individuals often excused from serving. The province’s stagnant pay rate has failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, while other provinces have made efforts to increase compensation. The Ontario government and legal stakeholders should work towards rectifying this issue to ensure a fair and diverse representation of society in the justice system.