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Jurors in Vancouver murder trial must be vaccinated: judge

The judge notes a COVID-19 outbreak could cause a mistrial
Judge chair
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has required all jurors on a Vancouver murder trial be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Photo by Eric Thompson

A Vancouver murder trial that started Monday, Oct. 4, features a panel of jurors fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after a judge deemed it essential for safety.

Judge James Williams issued a ruling on Sept. 29 that focused on the jury in the case of the murder of Zenen Cepeda Silva. It requires anyone who's part of the jury to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus with an approved vaccine.

"I am very concerned that the jury trial upon which we are about to embark should be conducted in a way that maximizes the safety of all participants, most certainly including those members of the community whom we require to serve as jurors," Williams wrote in his ruling. "Service on a jury entails being in close personal contact with a number of other persons, including other jurors."

Williams had two main reasons for the decision. One is that the jurors are being asked by the province to serve on the jury, and therefore the province should make sure they're kept safe. The other is that if a member of the jury were to be diagnosed with COVID-19 it would derail the court case, which is expected to last around 25 days, into November.

"It would be a travesty to find this trial derailed and having to be brought to a premature conclusion – a mistrial – because COVID-19 infection had rendered participants, whether jurors, counsel, staff or anyone else involved, unable to continue," Willams wrote.

Anyone who had not been fully vaccinated at the time of jury selection, on Oct. 2, would not be appointed, he stated in the decision. Additionally, if someone chose not to inform the court due to privacy concerns they wouldn't be appointed.

In August, Justice Geoffrey Gomery had a different take.

“I do not think the participation of unvaccinated jurors risks public confidence in the administration of justice,” Gomery said in an Aug. 8 Powell River case ruling.

Gomery noted that it delved into the private sphere. Williams acknowledged previous decisions but noted the times have already changed.

"In my respectful view, the circumstances at this time are not the same as when those decisions were made," he wrote. "It is my considered opinion that the measure I intend to invoke here is necessary for the proper conduct of this trial."

The case jurors will be observing is that of Alvaro Julio Roche-Garcia who has pled not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Silva.

With files from Jeremy Hainsworth