The lives of 12 Manitobans came to a screeching halt during the noon hour Monday when sheriff's officers essentially shanghaied them to sit as potential jurors at a nine-day sexual-assault trial.
Drop what you're doing. Don't worry about work. It's your civic duty.
Justice Gerald Chartier issued the rare order for court staff to hit the streets to round up jurors because the original 12-person jury came up one juror short.
Earlier Monday, Chartier had to dismiss that person along with two alternates for personal reasons, leaving only 11 jurors.
"For various reasons, we've found ourselves short of one juror," Chartier told the 12 new faces, who were marched into courtroom 117 just before 2 p.m. A short time earlier, each had been walking in the Cityplace mall when presented with a summons to appear in court for jury selection.
Chartier told them they would need a good excuse to decline serving on the jury, such as an illness or impending prepaid vacation.
None offered any.
"It's like a form of conscription," Chartier added.
Within a few minutes, one man had been selected to fill the empty seat in the jury box and the remaining 11 were allowed to go back to whatever they were doing before being summoned.
A couple of them left the courtroom smiling, but most were expressionless.
Court officials said they could only remember three instances in the past 25 years in which jurors had to be rounded up in such a fashion.
University of Manitoba law Prof. David Asper called it "odd."
"That's where you get the court to issue a summons and you send sheriffs out to round up jurors... people who have to drop whatever they're doing and sit on a jury," Asper said.
It's almost unheard of, he added.
"Imagine you're standing in (Cityplace) and then all of a sudden you're on a jury. You have to understand once you are summoned, you are obligated (to comply)," added Asper.
"I would call it very unusual."
Legal experts say as strange as it is, it's perfectly legal.
A provincial statute called the Manitoba Jury Act normally gives the courts the authority to convene juries, but it could be used in a pinch for a scenario such as this, said Anne McGillivray, a U of M law professor.
She called the mall scenario "extremely rare."
Asper said the Criminal Code also gives the courts the authority to get jurors when every other effort has failed.
Section 642 of the code contains a statute that states courts can issue summons like this, "by word of mouth" if the courts have exhausted all the normal procedures to convene a jury, he said.