Toronto City Council's vote to be exempted from jury duty
May 14, 2012 By Matthew Friedberg
I recently read about Toronto City Council's vote to be exempted from jury duty. A very small number of people are exempted from jury duty under the Ontario Juries Act. As a lawyer, I am exempted by law. As a criminal defence lawyer as a matter of common sense, I should be exempted. While prospective jurors should naturally bring their life experiences, skills and knowledge to a case they try, they hopefully come to the process as legal tabulae rasae. All I mean by this is that they are not legal experts or have a special expertise that might unduly influence their decision of the case to try it impartially.
I fail to see how the same can be said for City Councillors. Councillor Adam Vaughn was noted as saying that City Council is part of the legal process and as such should be exempted. Indeed as I understand it, part of the text of the motion for the exemption states:
Councillors provide oversight on the Toronto Police Services Board, participate in the creation of community safety plans, and are involved in co-ordinating law enforcement action and the City's response to crime concerns in communities.
Many parts of the enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act as it relates to infrastructure design, approval and implementation are core responsibilities of a City Councillor. Business licensing and regulation is also a core City function. Appointments to tribunals that conduct quasi-judicial hearings are also a core City function and a role executed or administered by City Councillors.
City Councillors also have legislative responsibilities which include, but are not limited, to City Council, Community Council, Standing Committees and various agency boards and commissions. The Oath of Office requires Councillors to attend these meetings and compose quorum.
I appreciate that Councillors provide a plethora of functions and some of them may have incidental roles that relate to crime prevention, police relations, licencing issues, etc. I submit this should not exempt these people as a class. If an individual on City Council performs a role which he considers problematic, he can do what all other citizens do, he can raise it with the Trial Judge. Not all City Councillors will be in a potential conflict or problematic situation regarding jury duty. Perhaps everyone should be exempt from jury duty since society performed and participated in the legal system by voting these Councillors into office?
Serving on a jury is part of one's civic duty. Trial Judges always tell jury panels that sitting on a jury is one of many duties and honours a citizen has in our country. Its tradition is ancient and is one of the bedrocks of our democracy and judicial system. It seems to me that these Councillors ought to lead by example and strive to serve on juries. Instead, sadly, this motion condones what too many already see jury duty as: something to dodge.