02/27/2018 12:30 EST | Updated 02/27/2018 12:32 EST

Trudeau's Reaction To Gerald Stanley Verdict Unpopular, But Canadians Back Jury-Selection Reforms: Poll

His comments raised the ire of Conservatives and some legal experts.

Justin Tang/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks towards the gallery in the Houes of Commons, where the family of Colten Boushie watch as he delivers a speech on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights on Feb. 14, 2018.

Nearly half of Canadians think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crossed the line by publicly responding to the acquittal of a white Saskatchewan farmer in the shooting death of Indigenous man Colten Boushie, a new poll suggests.

But the numbers released by Angus Reid Institute Tuesday also suggest Canadians would welcome reforms to the jury-selection process in the wake of the controversial verdict.

Trudeau tweeted to the Boushie family after a jury in Battleford, Sask. found Gerald Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder earlier this month. Stanley admitted to causing Boushie's death but said at trial it was an accident. The contentious verdict sparked protests across the country.

The prime minister also told reporters at the time that while he would not "comment on the process," Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike "know that we have to do better."

Conservatives and some legal experts argued that Trudeau's comments — as well as remarks from Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — amounted to political interference in the judicial process.

When the polling firm asked respondents if it was appropriate or inappropriate for Trudeau to personally respond to the Boushie verdict, 46 per cent said it was inappropriate, 32 per cent said they were unsure, while 22 per cent said it was appropriate.

Angus Reid Institute

Past Conservative voters were the most likely to say Trudeau should not have weighed in on the matter. Eighty-one per cent of Tory voters said Trudeau's comments were inappropriate, compared to 45 per cent of NDP supporters and 33 per cent of Liberals who felt the same.

Angus Reid Institute

The firm also found Canadians are split on the jury's verdict — with 32 per cent saying the decision was "flawed and wrong," while 30 per cent felt it was "good and fair." Thirty-eight per cent said they were unsure. Sixty-three per cent of respondents from Saskatchewan said the outcome was fair.

Stanley's verdict sparked debate over the use of so-called peremptory challenges at trials, which allow Crown and defence lawyers to reject possible jurors without providing explanations.

Stanley's defence lawyers refused several possible jurors who appeared to be Indigenous, sparking outrage from those who think the jury did not adequately reflect the community.

Nearly six-in-10 respondents told Angus Reid they agreed "we should reform these rules to ensure juries reflect the whole community better." Forty-one per cent, however, agreed with this statement: "This is the way it works, and juries generally deliver good verdicts regardless of their composition."

Angus Reid Institute

NDP MPs pushed Liberals to review and possibly scrap peremptory challenges in light of the Boushie case. Wilson-Raybould committed she would look closely at the issue.

Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould and other ministers met with Boushie's family in Ottawa just days after the verdict. In a speech in the House of Commons, in which he promised a new legislative framework with Indigenous peoples, Trudeau lauded Boushie's relatives for pushing to make the justice system better.

The prime minister pledged broad reforms to the criminal justice system, "including changes to how juries are selected."

The poll was conducted online between Feb. 15-19 among a representative, randomized sample of 2,501 Canadian adults who are part of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes, the firm notes a similar poll would have a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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