June 4, 2017
The Jury is Still Out
"Hi! Welcome to your wonderful journey through Canada's world renowned justice system! If you have phoned this number, that means you have been selected for jury duty! Congratulations! Please allow me to explain all of the amazing things that you have to look forward to..."
Okay, I will admit that I was not feeling the joy of participating in the Canadian justice system. To be honest, I had called the number on the summons to explain that I had a heart condition and that a trial would likely be injurious to my health and could I please please please be let go? What did I get for my effort? A five minute message outlining what I had already read in the letter containing my summons to jury duty that ended with two option: listening to the phone message again or hanging up.
Apparently, getting out of jury duty was not going to be so easy. I spent the time between my call and answering the call rehearsing what I planned to tell the judge: I have a heart condition and a trial would likely be injurious to my health and could I please please please be let go?
The empanelled jurors congregated on the sixth floor of the courthouse on University Avenue. Empanelling was something I was more comfortable with in rec rooms, but we cannot always choose how our verbs are interpreted. The sign on the sixth floor wall was missing the letters "x" and "o;" not being a Star Wars fan, I chose not to see this as an omen.
What den of murder, mayhem and other depravity could this be? Oh. The courthouse on University Avenue in Toronto. Carry on...
We gathered in the hallway, 40 or 50 people in an area with about a dozen seats. About 45 minutes before festivities (loosely defined) were to start, we were told to form two lines based on the initial of our last name. Or, something like that. It was hard to tell at the back of the room, so mostly we just milled about and slowly moved forward. Hitchcock was right: potential jurors are cattle.
The lines ended at a desk where two women were checking names off of a list and circling our panel number on our letter with a neon pink highlighter; either we had just won a free latte, or this was our proof that we had attended. (I don't drink coffee, so it was a matter of indifference to me.) I considered telling the woman how I had a heart condition and that a trial would likely be injurious to my health and could I please please please be let go?, but, while she was making an effort to be engaged, I could tell that her main concern was getting all of the jury pool into the room before the judge showed up, so I refrained from saying anything.
In the courtroom, a young man who reminded me of the intern on Thirty Rock told us: "Try not to leave any empty spaces - we're expecting a full house." It was like Star Wars all over again! (Hey - I may not have been a fan, but that doesn't mean that I didn't see it!) By the time we were told to "All rise" for the judge, all of the 100 or more seats in the courtroom had been filled, and some potential jurors had to sit on other's heads. (Out of propriety, they stood instead.)
The judge told us that Canada was the best country to live in; aside from the existence of Anne Murray, a major reason was that we had free and fair trials, of which jurors were a vital part. That out of the way, he told us what we really wanted to know: that we had been assembled as potential jurors for a murder trial, but that the matter had been settled, so we were free to go (except for TTC workers; I'm not sure what that was about, but the subway was still working, so I didn't question it too closely).
When we heard the news, the assembled jurors let out a cheer like their favourite sports team had just won the final game of the final series, they had been given a raise and had their work halved, and they had just had the best sex of their lives. Admittedly, this lack of commitment to civic duty was a tad unseemly, but that was the most energy I had experienced in a closed space since the third time I saw Star Wars (hey - I may not have been a fan, but...you know the drill). So, there's that.
I realized with some dismay that I wasn't going to tell anybody in the justice system that I had a heart condition and that a trial would likely be injurious to my health and could I please please please be let go? Such a waste of a good reason to get out of something! So, as I made my way to the subway home, I said it to one of the homeless men who sleep on the concrete benches outside the courthouse. "You are dismissed," he graciously told me when I was done.
Finally, I could go home satisfied with my encounter with the court. After all, when it comes to the legal system, we all just want our stories to be heard.
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