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Jury trials resume in Barrie with heavy reliance on technology, space

'Today, you’re all taking part in a jury system that is envied across the world,' judge tells members of the jury pool
2020-09-16 Barrie courthouse RB
The Barrie courthouse is located on Mulcaster Street. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

“I knew it,” says a woman standing after her number is called.

The first potential juror in Barrie’s first pandemic jury trial collects her things in Courtroom No. 2, where she’s been waiting with a dozen others called for jury duty, and heads over to the main courtroom, No. 4, where the proceedings are taking place.

A jury pool of 30 people is dispersed across three courtrooms, watching a television monitor broadcasting from a fourth courtroom as preparations for the trial for Jeffrey Ferguson-Cadore unfolds.

Once gathered, in the separate courtrooms, they hear the court registrar read out a series of charges dating back to an event in Wasaga Beach July 6, 2018 — carrying a weapon, intent to discharge a firearm, assault, assault with a weapon, possession of a loaded restricted firearm, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a high-capacity magazine.

Justice Susan Healey then appears on one half of a split screen. Wearing a suit jacket over a sapphire blue T-shirt, Ferguson-Cadore pleads not guilty to the charges on the other half of the screen.

After an eight-month hiatus brought on by the health pandemic, jury trials resumed in Barrie on Monday. But the process is very different from the former cattle call-style where 150 potential jurors crowd into the courthouse for jury selection.

In Toronto, where jury trials resumed in September, potential jurors were asked to gather at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. But an elevated COVID-19 alert status forced their suspension in Brampton, Toronto and Newmarket until Nov. 15. 

In the Barrie courthouse, the approach in a pandemic jury trial is slow and careful with a heavy reliance upon space and technology, which has become a mainstay in Ontario’s court system since a health emergency was declared in March.

Justice Healey, whose message is broadcast to Barrie’s superior court courtrooms, explains the process to choose 12 jurors and two alternates to the jury pool and how everyone involved will be protected against any potential spread of COVID-19 during what is expected to be a 10-day trial and what the expectations are.

“Today, you’re all taking part in a jury system that is envied across the world,” she tells them. “The role of the jury is one of the most important ones you will ever be called upon to perform.”

Courtroom No. 4, she explains, has been reconfigured to safely hold jury trials. And personal protective equipment as well as sanitation stations are readily available.

In fact, Courtroom No. 4, at the end of the hall where the Ontario Superior courts are accessed, has a posted capacity of 28. Most of the gallery seating has been removed and a large, spacious section occupying most of the left half of the courtroom is reserved for the jurors.

The front section for the judge and court staff now appears to be little cubicles created through the addition of Plexiglass barriers. Two rows of counsel tables facing the judge also have a series of Plexiglass separations and behind them are two podiums.

In the rear of the courtroom is a tiny prisoner’s dock, also outfitted with Plexiglass barriers.

One by one, the jurors are summoned to Courtroom No. 4 and the camera cuts out as they are vetted and Courtroom No. 2 slowly empties out. Twice it is announced that the potential juror is a no-show and the judge orders the sheriff to follow up.

By the noon break, a jury is selected and all that remains in Courtroom No. 2, which doubles as the courtroom gallery, is a reporter. And it is courtroom two that any member of the public not directly involved in the trial will be directed as the trial itself commences in Courtroom No. 4.

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About the Author: Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative

Marg. Buineman is an award-winning journalist covering justice issues and human interest stories for BarrieToday.
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