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Letter: Attitudes — not the justice system — in need of reform

Scales of justice.
Scales of justice. — SaltWire Network

I read Brian Zinchuk’s commentary online in the Feb. 13 Battlefords News Optimist in North Battleford, Sask. (“There is so much wrong being said by both sides about the Gerald Stanley trial”).
Kudos on that commentary on the trial and the coverage of it by the media. As a retired journalist, I have had experiences similar to Zinchuk’s in covering court proceedings. Additionally, I have served twice on juries, once in a murder trial and once in a manslaughter trial. Both were disturbing and instructional events that profoundly affected my judgment for the rest of my life.

If I have learned just one thing from this experience, it is that only people who know all the facts have a legitimate right to an opinion. My jury service took place in Labrador where there is a significant Indigenous population, making Zinchuk’s comments ring particularly true to me.

In my opinion, calls for reforms to the justice system are misplaced — the real need is for reform of people’s attitudes about justice, the workings of the judicial system and the relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. Actually, make that just relationships among people.

Our prime minister and elected officials should be ashamed of their knee-jerk reaction to the verdict. If they wish, as a government, to change laws, there is a proper place and venue for that. To undermine the system as it presently exists —and, by implication, the jurors who reached their verdict based on what they heard and saw in court — is completely beyond their mandate and beneath contempt. The comment by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in the Feb. 14 Telegram story, that perhaps we need to change the system of peremptory challenges during jury selection, seems disingenuous at best, considering that it applies to both defence and prosecution sides.

While it may be slightly off topic, I suggest that the furor around this jury verdict may provide a good argument for a much more open court system where the media is permitted to cover a trial from start to finish, allowing those interested to have access to all the facts, not just those that fit into a news report. And, in its turn, I believe the judiciary has an obligation to encourage the public to learn much more about the justice system’s workings before offering ill-informed opinions based solely on media reports.

Perhaps people, politicians included, wouldn’t be so quick to condemn if we were all better informed and were more concerned for the facts rather than perception.

Gary Hebbard
St. John’s

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