Hamilton

Prospective jurors in Peter Khill trial questioned about potential racial bias

Jury selection for the trial of Peter Khill took place Monday with approximately 250 people crowded into a Hamilton courtroom, filling the seats and standing three-deep in the aisles.

Law professor calls questioning of jurors was a 'significant improvement' over Gerald Stanley trial

Peter Khill leaves a Hamilton court Monday as jury selection begins for his trial on a charge of second-degree murder. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Prospective jurors for the Hamilton trial of Peter Khill, charged with second-degree murder for the death of a First Nations man, were screened by lawyers for possible racial bias on Monday.

The potential jurors were asked whether the fact that the accused Peter Khill was white and the deceased victim Jon Styres was Indigenous would keep them from considering evidence without bias.

It's a question that wasn't asked of the reportedly all-white jurors who reached a not-guilty verdict for Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, accused of second-degree murder in a similar case about the death of Colten Boushie.

The question to potential jurors in the Hamilton trial held in Ontario Superior Court is something one legal scholar described as a "good precaution." 

"In my view this is a significant improvement that happened when the Stanley jury was selected," said Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, in a phone interview.

While describing the case to the prospective jurors, Justice Stephen Glithero said it's alleged Khill woke up around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016, and went outside with a shotgun to confront a man he saw "in or near" his truck.

Styres, 29, a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, died at the scene of "gunshot-related injuries," police said.

Khill, 28, told court Monday he's pleading not guilty to the charge.

Glithero addressed approximately 250 prospective jurors who crowded into the Hamilton courtroom, filling the seats and standing three-deep in the aisles.

Peter Khill is pictured during jury selection for his trial on a second-degree murder charge in Hamilton. (Marcela Prikryl/CBC)

During the day that group was whittled down to 14 people. Twelve will be on the jury and two alternates will be selected as well.

Seven men and five women have been selected for the jury. One alternate has been chosen, and on Tuesday morning 10 more potential jurors will be called, so the court can find another alternate juror.

The question of whether or not jurors felt they would be able to evaluate the evidence without bias was one of the key issue for members of the Indigenous community who are keeping an eye on how the trial is handled by the legal system.

Ava Hill, chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River, said she will be watching the selection closely to make sure the "same mistakes" around the legal process that were criticized after the Stanley trial aren't made again.

During questioning, three jurors excused themselves, including one man who said he would "struggle" with being impartial based on the backgrounds of the accused and victim.

Hamilton police cruisers sit outside the home on Highway 56 in Glanbrook where the body of Jon Styres was found. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

Another man said he wasn't fit for the jury because he believes the "system is seriously flawed," and a woman said she lives in the same area as Khill and has had her house broken into four times, meaning she too believed she couldn't be impartial.

Roach said he's aware of only two other cases where jurors in Canada were asked about potential bias in cases involving Indigenous people, meaning it's "relatively novel."

"This at least attempts to screen all of the prospective jurors for racist bias," he said.

"Is this one question foolproof? Probably not, but it is consistent with how far the courts have gone, and I think it's a good precaution."

Clarifications

  • This story was amended to correctly reflect how the question for jurors about racial bias is described.
    Jun 12, 2018 12:57 PM ET

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