Saturday, June 6, 2009

OPP's conduct 'illegal'

Lawyer wants charges laid over background checks on jurors


Last Updated: 6th June 2009, 2:44am

BARRIE -- Either the attorney general or the OPP should be charged for allowing Barrie Crown attorneys to conduct illegal searches into the backgrounds of potential jurors, a Toronto lawyer said yesterday.

"It's illegal, and it's scandalous," said Mitchell Worsoff, who asked for a mistrial for his client because he claimed the entire jury panel was "tainted".

The issue arose in a Barrie court Tuesday when Worsoff asked for a mistrial for his client, Ravi Badhwar, because he believed the jury panel was "tainted," after he learned the Crown prosecutor obtained private information on hundreds of persons who were selected as possible jurors to sit on the man's trial.

In court, Worsoff produced the list to the judge that showed names, ages and occupations of more than 200 potential jurors.

Beside many of the names, handwritten notations were made.

"Suicidal in 2001" was written beside the name of retired manager from Collingwood.

Under present law to prevent a biased jury, the Crown and the defence lawyers are only allowed to know the name, age and occupation of a juror, unless they have a criminal record for an indictable offence, which would automatically exclude them as potential jurors.

"Ongoing neighbour dispute -- neighbour shot his cat," was written beside the name of a Penetanguishene man who is a machine operator.

"Witness to parent's domestic. Dad is a drinker and assaultive to her mother," was written beside the name of another woman from Victoria Harbour who is a student.

Several others on the list had drinking-and-driving convictions beside their names -- which is not an indictable offence.

Another man from Perkinsfield had "calls for minor complaints" as a notation.

In court, Worsoff produced another document endorsed by Barrie's deputy Crown attorney Mike Minns, that was sent to OPP detachments in Collingwood, Huronia West, Midland, Nottawasaga, Orillia and Southern Georgian Bay.

It was attached to a list containing the names of hundreds of potential jurors throughout their regions with a memorandum that stated: "It would be helpful if comments could be made concerning any disreputable persons we would not want as a juror."

"This is completely illegal," said Worsoff. "We are not supposed to know anything about them."

On Tuesday, Crown attorney Karen McCleave asked Justice John McIsaac for a publication ban on the proceedings to protect the integrity of Badhwar's trial. The judge granted a temporary ban until he could hear arguments from the Crown and defence.

The same evening, after an article was published on the Internet about the issue, McCleave told the judge she would be exploring contempt charges against the publication.

She added in light of the article, all potential jurors on the jury panel list of 120 may be biased and now must be dismissed.

Yesterday, Justice McIsaac lifted the temporary ban after finding there were no grounds to keep the information from the public.

An almost identical complaint from another defence lawyer arose in court just a week earlier.

After the issue hit the headlines last week, a directive from Attorney General Chris Bentley was sent out to the region's Crowns and OPP detachments to "cease and desist" collecting any information on potential jurors, other than the name, age and whether or not they have an indictable criminal offence conviction.

Worsoff said he's wondering why he ended up with yet another "tainted" jury panel well after the directive came out.

Erin Moroz, a spokesman for Bentley, said yesterday the minister would not be commenting because the case is still before the courts.

But Worsoff said trials from past years may also be tainted.

"It's going to create a disaster in the courts," he said. "Every jury case in the past several years will now have to be looked at."

In the wake of the controversy, at least one lawyer is asking the Court of Appeal to review the case for Ibrahim Yumnu, 52, of Wasaga Beach, who was convicted in the murder of a Toronto couple who were beaten and shot near the Barrie Drive Inn in 2002.
The Toronto Sun

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