For Brian Manarin, skipping class in high school led to a doctoral degree in law.
A former assistant Crown attorney and UWindsor sessional lecturer now in the Faculty of Law full-time for a year as the Ron W. Ianni fellow, Manarin stepped into a courtroom for the first time as a truant teenager in the late 1970s. He and a friend had been wandering around downtown Windsor when they came upon the courthouse and decided to go inside.
They sat in on the jury selection in the trial of a black man. There were black women and men in the pool of prospective jurors, but, one by one, they were all sent home.
“It ended up being an all-white, male jury,” Dr. Manarin recalls.
It was evident to even a naive teenager that this was not only strange, but blatantly unjust.
Manarin includes the vignette in the introduction to his book, Canadian Indigenous Peoples and Criminal Jury Trials: Remediating Inequities. Based on Manarin’s doctoral dissertation, the book shows how Indigenous people experience systemic bias in Canada’s judicial system similar to the black man in the courtroom Manarin happened upon decades ago.
Manarin completed his PhD while working in the Windsor Crown’s office where he had spent three decades prosecuting accused fraudsters, killers, rapists, and thieves.
“The most enjoyable part of being a trial lawyer is jury trials,” Manarin said. It’s one of the few opportunities for a prosecutor to connect with the community he or she serves.
“It’s steeped in tradition,” he said. “Juries are revered in Canada.”
But Manarin said the judicial system can do better when it comes to jury trials involving Indigenous offenders or Indigenous victims. He points to the killing of Colten Boushie, the 22-year-old Cree Red Pheasant First Nation man who was fatally shot on a rural Saskatchewan farm in 2016.
The farmer who killed the young man was acquitted of second-degree murder by an all-white jury. The federal government proposed legislative changes to the jury selection process after the controversial trial. Indigenous people in the pool of prospective jurors were prevented from sitting on the jury through the peremptory challenges trial lawyers can use to disqualify jurors based solely on their appearance.
“Even with certain safeguards in place, we still fall short when it comes to Indigenous people,” Manarin said.
Manarin says he has always been interested in legal ethics and writing about criminal law. He had his first article published in 1989.
The Ianni fellowship, named after the former dean of law and UWindsor president who died in 1997, involves teaching and research. Manarin has just completed a paper on expert testimony and is working on two more. One is on juries and another is on reciprocal disclosure — the sharing and exchange of evidence between the prosecution and defence.
Manarin is also supervising student research and organizing an event for January he’s billing as “a night with the local bench and bar.”
Dean Christopher Waters said the Faculty of Law is delighted to be hosting Manarin.
“Dr. Manarin had a stellar career as a Crown prosecutor, with a well-deserved reputation for fairness and integrity. He also, however, has an enviable scholarly record,” Waters said. “Our students are the beneficiaries of this rich combination of practice experience and scholarly rigour.”