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Quebec judge refuses request for fully vaccinated jury at Montreal trial

Courts have differed on full vaccination for jurors in recent Canadian judgments
The Quebec Superior Court is seen in Montreal, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. A Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled a juror doesn’t need to be fully vaccinated to participate in a Montreal fraud trial. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled a juror doesn’t need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in a Montreal fraud trial.

Justice Mario Longpré wrote in ruling released Friday that full immunization wasn’t necessary and cited privacy concerns and jury representativeness in his ruling.

The accused in the trial had brought the request, citing a recent decision in Ontario that saw an Ottawa judge rule that all jurors participating in a murder trial would need to be fully inoculated with two doses of vaccine. That ruling cited concerns about the Delta variant and rising case counts.

But Ontario’s Juries Act allows those who aren’t physically able to perform their duties to be declared ineligible, a distinction that doesn’t exist in Quebec, where the law only allows those with mental incapacity or impairment to be exempted, Longpré wrote.

“The Jurors Act applicable in Quebec does not allow it to declare candidate jurors disqualified by reason of a physical incapacity, even if it were to be concluded that the fact of not being adequately vaccinated constitutes such an incapacity,” the judge wrote.

Courts have differed on full vaccination for jurors in recent Canadian judgments. One decision from B.C. Supreme Court last month did not allow the Crown to ask jurors questions about their vaccination status, citing privacy.

In the Ontario ruling, the judgment also did not allow prospective jurors to be asked why they weren’t vaccinated, limiting the question to if they were or not.

“The principle of selection of juries in Canada is also based on the fundamental principle of respect for the privacy of candidate jurors,” Longpré wrote.

Longpré said selecting a jury made up of those who are adequately vaccinated also raises privacy issues which are protected by the province’s human rights charter as well as Quebec’s Civil Code.

The automatic exclusion of non-vaccinated jurors could create problems for representativeness from the outset of the selection process, which could create issues for things like impartiality, Longpré wrote.

There is no vaccination requirement for Quebec justice system actors and the province’s vaccine passport isn’t used for courthouses, he added.

The judge also noted jury trials have taken place without major issues or delays during the pandemic and the province has gone with 14 jurors to ensure trials can run smoothly.

He wrote jurors should be made aware of the health measures as well as the fact that people might not be adequately vaccinated, and they should be allowed to ask for an exemption for COVID-19 concerns.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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