Toronto woman reports for jury selection, gets potentially exposed to COVID-19
An RCMP officer patrols outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in this Friday June 25, 2010 file photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
TORONTO -- A Toronto woman said she was potentially exposed to COVID-19 after she was summoned to appear for jury selection last week.
The woman, who wished only to be identified as Grace, told CTV News Toronto that she attended the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), one of several off-site locations being used by the Ministry of the Attorney General for jury selection, on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22.
Grace has small children and said she was nervous about attending, noting that she has generally kept away from restaurants, patios and other public spaces during the pandemic.
"It was something that I knew that I couldn’t get out of, it is my civic duty and it’s the law that I attend. I was really concerned when I went," she said.
When she arrived at the MTCC, Grace explained how panels of prospective jurors were divided into separate rooms. She said there were about 40 people in each room with chairs that were all spaced out.
However, on Saturday Grace said she received a call from the jury office informing her that there was a “low risk exposure” to COVID-19 at the MTCC.
“They are asking me to assess for symptoms but that the risk is very low so I don’t need to isolate,” she said.
Grace said she attempted to make contact with the jury office for more information but was unsuccessful.
In an email to CTV News Toronto, the Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed that an individual who had worked at several Toronto court locations, including the MTCC on Sept. 21, tested positive for COVID-19.
“The individual, who was asymptomatic, was wearing a mask and was not part of the jury panel, a spokesperson for the ministry said.
“The individual has been in self-isolation since September 22, and has been advised by Public Health to continue to self-isolate, which is a normal public health preventative procedure. They will not return to work until cleared to do so by a medical professional.”
The ministry said the individual also visited the Superior Court of Justice between Sept, 14 and Sept. 22, the College Park Courthouse on Sept. 15 and the University Avenue Courthouse on Sept. 14 to Sept. 18 and on Sept. 22.
The ministry said they consulted with Toronto Public Health who advised that based on their assessment they determined the case to be low risk.
Grace explained that she was eventually excused from jury duty as her children are set to begin virtual learning on Tuesday. While she said that she feels confident that she was not exposed to the disease, Grace said she plans on getting tested to be safe.
"I do take a lot of precautions, my kids are being homeschooled. We have a very small group of people that includes my mother and I am feeling concerned that I have exposed and therefore have exposed them and anyone else in our lives," she said.
Jury selection and jury trials in Ontario only recently returned following a six-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a document issued earlier this month, the ministry said government staff visited the Toronto convention centre and conducted a risk assessment to identify any further controls that could help curb the spread of the virus during jury selection.
It called for, among other things, a staggered arrival for prospective jurors, mandatory face masks for the public and staff, and a deferral for any members of the public unable to wear a mask for medical reasons.
"Precautionary measures at the courthouses, apart from the enhanced cleaning, include active COVID-19 screening, plexiglass/other barriers, physical distancing, hand hygiene, face coverings, and PPE where required. These measures are also in place at the convention centre," the ministry added.
Despite that, Grace believes that the situation could have been avoided if the jury selection process was entirely virutal.
"I think they were preparing for selection to happen as it did when cases were low, but they’ve been growing and growing and I would’ve preferred to have something that was more appropriate for the current case levels," she explained.
On Sunday, the province recorded 491 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number of new cases since early May.
"I didn’t think being in a room with a bunch of strangers was the safest way to do this," she added.
With files from the Canadian Press.