Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, July 4, 2005 --- CRARR has joined the family of an Indo-Mauritian man found guilty of second degree murder of his girlfriend in Quebec City to call for a new trial since racism tainted the jury deliberations and one juror was allegedly pressured into reaching a guilty verdict.

On May 23, 2005, Mr. Yagnish Maherchand was convicted by a jury for the murder of his girlfriend. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after ten years. However, three weeks after the verdict, one juror, Ms. Carole Roy, went public about the jury’s racial bias; she also denounced the other jurors’ pressure on her to change her decision. Mr. Maherchand’s lawyer has filed a motion in the Quebec Court of Appeal to have Ms. Roy’s statement admitted; the case will be heard on July 11, 2005, in Quebec City.

At a press conference held in Montreal in the presence of the family of the convicted man, CRARR spokepersons outlined the constitutional rights that are at stake in this case, which has the potential of reaching the Supreme Court of Canada and change how jurors are screened for racial and other bias in Quebec.

For the Maherchand family and CRARR, what is at stake is not only the civil rights of Mr. Maherchand to a fair trial free from racism, but also the equal protection and benefit of the law, both of which are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Deshmookh Maherchand, the accused’s brother, states that the family just wants a fair trial and wishes that the Quebec Court of Appeal will quash the verdict and order a new trial.

According to Mr. René St-Léger, CRARR’s Chairman of the Board and a criminal lawyer, the case should compel the Quebec Attorney General to adopt new screening criteria that are common in the U.S. to strike out potential jurors who have racial and other biases. Canada’s Supreme Court addressed the issue of racial bias in jury selection in 1998 (R. v. Williams) and that of jury secrecy in 2000 (R. v. Pan, R. v. Sawyer, the facts in the latter being identical to those in the Maherchand case); by relying on the common law rule of jury secrecy, the Court set out relatively high standards to challenge potential jurors for racial bias and a jury verdict influenced by racial bias.

However, for CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi, the issue now is whether Mr. Maherchand’s right to a fair trial and right to the equal protection and benefit of the law have been violated by a jury verdict tainted by racism.

“In a city where events in the last two years such as the juvenile prostitution scandal and the CHOI radio station closing have revealed widespread prejudice towards people of color, there is a very “realistic potential of jury partiality” that could have led to a miscarriage of justice,” he said.

For Ms. Parbowtee Maherchand who traveled from Mauritius Island to attend the trial and support her son Yagnish, the case has been devastating for her and her four other children. From very modest origins, all her five children, including Yagnish, have made major academic and professional achievements in Russia, France, India, Great Britain and Canada.

“We are not only saddened by Yagnish's action, for which we apologize profusely to the victim's family and everyone who has supported him. All we want now is that he has a fair trial, since two wrongs don't make a right,” she said.

“The thought of my son being sentenced to life in prison as a result of a jury verdict is already very hard. The thought of him being sentenced as a result of a racially biased jury is much more painful,” she added.

For CRARR, the ramification of the case is far-reaching. “The question raised in this case goes beyond the courtroom. It is about whether a person of color charged with a serious criminal offense can have a fair and impartial trial in Quebec City and in the rest of the province,” Mr. Niemi said.

“We all have the duty to do everything possible to ensure that the answer to that question is yes, because the basic integrity of our criminal justice system depends on it,” he concluded.

Given the national importance of the case, CRARR is calling on the Attorney General of Quebec, the Quebec Bar Association and the Quebec Association of Defense Lawyers to address this issue and come up with guidelines to screen out potential jurors with racial and other discriminatory bias.

NOTE: In July 2007, the Court of Appeal reversed the lower court ruling and ordered a new trial. The Court also took judicial notice of racism in Canadian/Quebec society: