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Thirty three days into a murder trial in Windsor, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas declared a mistrial yesterday after it was revealed that police had searched databases and run background checks on potential jurors. The resulting information was then used by the Crown Attorney to assist in selecting the jury. Potential jury members suspected of being unfriendly to the police or those with young offender records, criminal charges without convictions or pardons were screened out, causing Justice Thomas to conclude that the practice was meant to provide the Crown with “an unfair advantage in selecting a jury favourable to the prosecution.”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides in section 11(d) that “Any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.” Section 7 of the Charter of Rights provides that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

These ringing guarantees of the right to a fair trial are too precious to be jeopardized by the practices disclosed by Justice Thomas. It is to be hoped that a full accounting will soon be given by the Attorney General and that the improper vetting of jurors will now be brought to an end.