After Stanley verdict, lawyers say political commentary risks justice system independence


VANCOUVER — The public perception of political interference in criminal trials places the independence of Canada’s judiciary system at risk, lawyers say.

Concerns have been raised following federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s comments on the acquittal of a white farmer charged in the death of an Indigenous man in Saskatchewan.

Edmonton-based criminal lawyer Tom Engel said when politicians, especially the justice minister, appear to criticize verdicts, the public may believe that future decisions by the courts are influenced by the remarks.

Wilson-Raybould said in a tweet that Canada “can and must do better,” after a jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in at a news conference Saturday, saying Canada has “come to this point as a country far too many times.”

Engel said if the case is appealed, he doesn’t believe the politicians’ comments would colour the decisions made by the appeal courts or Supreme Court of Canada.

The problem, he said, is that the public may perceive that there is an influence.

“You can’t have even that kind of appearance in our justice system,” he said.

Michael Lacy, a partner in the criminal law group Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP in Toronto, also said politicians “have no business at all” in commenting on the outcome of a trial.

“It undermines the independence of the judicial branch,” he said in an email.

“Saying anything that amounts to commenting on the correctness of the verdict, to improve your public image or ensure an appropriate approval rating, should be criticized in Canada,” Lacy said, adding public figures should stick to offering sympathies over the tragic loss of life.

Rallies were held across the country Saturday to show support for, and solidarity with, the Boushie family.

Colten Boushie’s mother Debbie Baptiste addresses demonstrators gathered outside of the courthouse in North …read more

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