The truth about Jury duty in Ontario

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In the era of digital communication, it's weird to check your physical mailbox and receive something other than bills or the original junk mail. So when I got my jury duty summons, I was reminded of all the movies and TV shows I watched growing up with adults grumbling about having to serve on a jury. But being summoned for jury duty in Ontario is nothing like the movies. Here's a look into how jury duty works in the province.

The summons

If you receive a summons, it is your civic duty as a Canadian citizen to attend court at the court location noted on your summons at the specified date and time. Don't forget to tell your employer you have to attend jury selection. In Canada, employers must give employees time off to attend selection and to serve as jurors. Under the Employment Standards Act, a juror is considered to be on unpaid leave for the period of jury duty.

Jury panel

When you arrive at the courthouse, you take your summons paper to the jury room, where the jury constable finds your name in a binder and marks you present. Then you are put into colour-coordinated panels, with which you wait to be called to potentially be selected for a trial. I actually spent my entire first day of jury panel waiting for something to happen and was dismissed at the end of the day. But that doesn't mean you have completed your duty because you must return every day up to a week. During that week, though, there are reasons you can be dismissed such as a scheduled vacation or chronic medical condition or if you are a business owner.

Jury selection (part 1)

On the third day of jury panel, my group was called for jury selection. We were moved upstairs and went into a courtroom. The judge, court registrar, court reporter, the prosecutor, the defense counsel and the accused were assembled. The accused entered their pleas. This was a criminal trial. The judge explained how jury selection would work, and then it was determined whether potential jurors knew either the accused or any of the witnesses (because that would be terms of dismissal) and we were told we would again have an opportunity to be dismissed, if need be, by pleading our case to the judge.

Jury selection (the optional part)

Once the initial introductions are made, it is time to start selecting jurors. Papers with each potential jurors' details are placed in a wooden drum and the court registrar reaches into the drum and calls out a potential juror's information (name, panel number and area of residence). This person is a temporary "trier." Another temporary trier is also called and sworn in. The registrar then draws the name of the first potential juror. She is sworn in and asked a question that the judge, prosecution and defense agreed upon. When she answers, the two triers say "acceptable" or "unacceptable" and, if she is deemed "unacceptable," the person is excused. This is all optional because if the lawyers don't want to screen prospective jurors, there are no "triers."

Jury selection (the final stage)

Each potential juror, if no screening questions are to be asked, is sworn in one by one and the lawyers have the opportunity to say "content" or "challenge." If "content," the lawyer would accept the person for the jury. Each lawyer has a specific number of times he or she can "challenge." The number of peremptory challenges depends on the defendant's charge. There can be as many as 20 (in a murder case) and as few as four (where the risk of jail is five years or less), according to criminal lawyer Brian Eberdt. This continues until there are 12 jurors.

This process is all too familiar to anyone who studies Canada's justice system, including paralegals who have the distinction of being allowed to represent clients in criminal code offences, traffic violations, municipal offences, various boards, agencies, commissions, and tribunals as well as small claims court. You can start your journey to becoming a paralegal at Centennial College's one-year certificate program, which prepares students for the Law Society of Upper Canada licensing exam that is required to practice in Ontario.

By Izabela Szydlo

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