03/17/2016 20:00 EDT | Updated 03/18/2017 01:12 EDT

Hinton sheriffs randomly round up shoppers as potential jurors

Usually, when you get summoned for jury duty, you're alerted by a letter in the mail.

But when Colleen Darbyshire was notified of her obligation to uphold Canadian justice, she was at her local grocery store — one of nearly two dozen people randomly rounded up by the law that day in Parks West Mall.

"I was in Walmart shopping," says the Hinton, Alta., resident. "Then I come to the front of the store and these two sheriffs come up to me and say, 'Excuse me, ma'am, can we have a word with you?'"

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Darbyshire was confused — and a little nervous.

"It was a bit of a shock. I thought it was [because] they were thinking I was shoplifting," she says of the encounter on Tuesday.

That's when the sheriffs informed her she'd been summoned — for jury duty.

No choice

According to the Alberta Jury Act, "if the number of persons on the jury panel who are in attendance is insufficient or is so reduced by exemptions, exclusions, challenges or persons being found not qualified as to be insufficient to select a full jury, additional persons shall be summoned immediately to be included on the jury panel."

That's what happened on Tuesday in Hinton, about 285 kilometres west of Edmonton. 

Bewildered, Darbyshire told the sheriffs she couldn't go, but they responded that she had no choice. So she followed them out to a bus where about 20 other equally confused residents had previously been jolted out of their daily routine by the call of jury duty. 

"A few women were taken from their work," says Darbyshire. 

"There was one gentleman — it was his anniversary — who had a house full of people, so there was all sorts of different lives going on that were interrupted," she added.

Once the busload of unsuspecting potential jurors arrived at the Hinton courthouse, they were ushered through security and into the courtroom.

One by one, they stood up in front of the judge until a suitable candidate was found. 

Luckily for Darbyshire, who had never before been required to perform jury duty, it was the person in front of her who was selected. 

Amusing experience

And so after the bizarre, two-hour interruption, she and the remaining candidates returned to their daily lives.

"I'm open to anything," says Darbyshire of the experience. "I'm always interested, I'm an inquisitive mind. Sure I could have been doing work, but to have two hours off to see how the selection is done, I was fine with it."

Though it may have been startling and confusing at first, Darbyshire said the day's events left her with new knowledge of the justice system — as well as some new friends.

"I think all in all everybody had a good sense of humour about it after we figured out what was going on."