By Betsy Powell

A Toronto judge has written a scathing letter to Canadian Tire demanding to know why an employee was told he wouldn’t be paid if he were selected for jury duty.

During recent jury selection for a murder trial in downtown Toronto’s Superior Court, several prospective jurors said their employers had told them they would not be paid or they would receive only partial pay while performing their civic duty.

They also included employees of a web-design outfit, a digital gift card company and a firm that has contracts with the Canadian military, all of which also received sharp rebukes from Superior Court Justice Robert Goldstein.

In court, Goldstein said he found it “completely unacceptable” that an automotive service employee at a Canadian Tire location in the Junction had produced a letter saying: “Please be advised that he will not be paid for jury duty as it is not a company benefit.”

In response, Goldstein wrote to Canadian Tire’s general counsel, Jim Christie, and Timothy Tallon, the owner of the St. Clair West. franchise.

“I find it surprising that Canadian Tire’s policy is that payment while on jury duty is a ‘company benefit,’” Goldstein wrote in his letter. “Citizens who serve on juries are not receiving a benefit; they are doing a civic duty. Trial by jury in serious criminal matters is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy,” he continued.

“It is vitally important that citizens be able to participate in the administration of justice in their communities, with the support of their employers.”

Goldstein included in his letter some Canadian Tire financial information — and noted that the corporation that promotes itself “as a uniquely Canadian brand” had $14.5 billion in sales in the 2019 fiscal year.

The judge also said that his experience, “virtually all large Canadian corporations — including large franchised corporations — pay their employees while they fulfil their civic obligation to do jury duty.”

The next day, Cynthia Hill, Canadian Tire’s vice-president of legal and associate general counsel, sent the judge a reply, saying the employee would, in fact, be compensated for any lost wages if he was accepted for jury duty.

Asked by the Star to clarify what Canadian Tire’s company-wide policy is, spokeswoman Cathy Kurzbock said the corporation’s practice is to compensate employees if they are selected.

“The case you’re referring to is specific to an independently owned and operated franchisor, and we have confirmed that should the employee be selected for jury duty, the Associate Dealer will compensate him for any lost wages,” Kurzbock wrote in an email.

The Star sent Tallon detailed questions by voicemail and email and attempted to speak to him in person through staff at the St. Clair West store, but did not receive a response.

In the end, the employee was not selected for jury duty.

The judge also sent a sharply worded letter to digital gift card company Givex Inc. after an employee indicated he would not be paid if picked to sit on the jury.

Contacted by the Star, Joe Donaldson, the company’s chief marketing officer, said he wasn’t sure why the employee said that, “but our policy is to pay when people are on a jury.”

Under Ontario law, companies must allow employees time off for jury duty but are not required to pay their full salary.

“Speak with your employer to determine if they have a policy to pay people absent from work for jury duty,” the province’s website says.

Toronto police Homicide Det. Jason Shankaran, the officer in charge of the murder case, last week tweeted that it was “immensely disappointing” that some large Canadian corporations refuse to pay employees for jury duty.

“Many of these corps have contracts with various levels of govt. Being a juror is one of the most important peace time activities a citizen can undertake,” he wrote.

Defence lawyers on the murder case said they were also dismayed.

“When Canadian Tire gets robbed or otherwise is damaged they expect the justice system to take action, so as a result, it would be helpful if we had jurors to do that,” said John Struthers, who is also president of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

Sid Freeman, who also represents one of three men on trial for murder, said the ability of employers to opt out of paying “disproportionately eliminates the working poor” from serving on juries, making them less than fair. “The failure of the state to adequately compensate jurors also eliminates the poor as well as all people on commission and all people who are self-employed.”

If they are selected, jurors are given $40 a day only after serving without pay for their first 10 days on a jury. Jurors receive a daily amount of $100 from the 50th day onward.

Freeman, Struthers and Greg Leslie, another defence lawyer on the case, agree it should be mandatory that employers compensate jurors.

“It’s one of the few civic duties we have as Canadians,” Leslie said Tuesday.

There could be exceptions for small businesses, where having to compensate lost wages for a missing employee creates a problem, he said.

Originally posted by the Canadian Press on 03/02/2020.