OTTAWA (AP) — The Supreme Court of Canada, in a ruling Thursday, gave lawyers new freedom to question potential jurors about racial prejudice.
In the past, Canadian law on this issue has been much stricter than in the United States, where lawyers routinely can ask prospective jurors about their racial attitudes.
Canada’s high court ruled that prospective jurors can be questioned about such attitudes if a lawyer demonstrates to a judge that there is widespread bias in the community against the racial group in question.
“To suggest that all persons who possess racial prejudices will erase those prejudices from the mind when serving as jurors is to underestimate the insidious nature of racial prejudice and the stereotyping that underlies it,” wrote Justice Beverley McLachlin in the unanimous opinion.
The decision is a victory for Victor Williams, an Indian from British Columbia who was convicted in a 1993 robbery of a pizza parlor.
At Williams’s first trial, his lawyer questioned prospective jurors about whether their judgment would be affected by the fact that Williams is aboriginal and the victim is white.
Twelve prospective jurors were dismissed because of their answers. But two days after jury selection, the judge declared a mistrial, in part because of the jury selection process.
Before the second trial, the lawyer asked the judge if he could once again question potential jurors about racial prejudice. The request was denied and Williams was convicted.
Because of Thursday’s ruling, he will get a third trial.