A B.C. Supreme Court judge has denied Crown’s counsel’s request to ask jurors about their vaccination status in a Powell River criminal trial.
In his oral reasons for ruling concerning jury selection issued last week, Justice Geoffrey B. Gomery said that he was not aware of any COVID-19 outbreaks linked to a criminal or civil trial in B.C., where until recent months it was assumed that everyone was unvaccinated. Measures like distancing, masking, health protocols, and the installation of Plexiglas dividers in courtrooms, he noted, are in place to keep everyone safe.
“Objectively, the risk to jurors, if some of them are unvaccinated is very low,” Gomery said. “If panellists had expressed concerns about Covid exposure, I would have excused them in any event.”
Gomery said that questions about COVID-19 vaccination status touches on a “private and personal sphere,” and that jurors might feel intimidated by the question, even if they were not required to answer.
“This is not in itself a reason not to put the question – participants in the justice system are sometimes required to disclose personal and private information in open court – but the question is one that should only be required if circumstances demand it,” he added.
Gomery said that the answer to a question about COVID vaccination status would not help him make a decision to allow or dismiss a juror, which can be done “for reasons of personal hardship, maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice or any other reasonable cause.”
In the judge’s opinion, either vaccination or lack thereof do not trigger any of these conditions.
“There is no good reason to ask the question and I therefore declined to put it to panellists,” Gomery said.