June 19th, 2024

Prospective juror with pictures of Coutts accused on T-shirt excused from panel

By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press on May 31, 2024.

Jury selection is scheduled for two men charged with conspiracy to commit murder at a 2022 border protest at Coutts, Alta. Weapons and ammunition seized by the RCMP are shown in a 2022 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – A prospective juror for a murder-conspiracy trial didn’t need to make a case to be excused Friday, after he showed up with the faces of the accused printed on his T-shirt and waved at them in the prisoner’s box.

He was one of about 100 people who were at court for jury selection in the trial of two men charged with conspiracy to commit murder of police officers at the 2022 blockade at the border crossing at Coutts, Alta.

Other potential jurors were also excused.

One man who has worked overnight shifts for 14 years said he wouldn’t be able to stay awake.

Another said he was biased because his brother was a police officer.

A woman said she had a non-refundable trip booked to Europe. She burst into tears of joy when the judge let her go.

In the end, five men and nine women were selected to sit on the jury for the trial that is set to start next week.

Anthony Olienick and Chris Carbert were arrested after RCMP found a cache of guns, body armour and ammunition in trailers. They are also charged with mischief and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

The blockade was part of a larger protest against COVID-19 rules. It paralyzed traffic at the Canada-U.S. border crossing for two weeks.

During the four-hour proceeding Friday, Court of King’s Bench Justice David Labrenz quizzed possible jurors while fielding concerns from Crown and defence lawyers about their impartiality or fitness to serve.

Several people said they had heard about the case, been impacted by COVID-19 or had strong opinions on the blockade.

Prosecutor Steven Johnston raised a concern about a woman in her 20s who told court she was in favour of the blockade “to a point” but could put aside her opinion while on the jury.

The defence objected to a man in his 60s who said, “I believe people have a right to demonstrate but I also believe in the law.”

Labrenz approved both as jurors, saying the court has to be realistic given the high profile of the case.

“You would almost have to have been living off the grid not to have heard about the blockade in Alberta, and you would almost be a most unusual person who did not have some views in favour or opposing the Coutts blockade,” Labrenz said.

“You’re not entitled to a jury without views.

“You’re entitled to a jury that is impartial.”

The trial was slated to begin Monday, but Labrenz told the chosen jurors it would start later in the week after other legal issues are sorted.

Labrenz said the trial could go as long as the middle of July.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.

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