Cooper wants more jury support

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Jurors currently barred from discussing traumatic trials with mental health professionals

St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper is introducing a bill to help improve the mental health of people who serve on juries.

Cooper introduced a private members bill last Thursday that would allow jurors who are traumatized by evidence they see at trials to talk to mental health professionals.

Cooper, who is the conservative deputy justice critic and who sits on the justice committee, said the committee undertook a study around juror supports across Canada and found jurors were suffering as a result of the horrific things they were hearing at trials.

“In the course of the study, we heard as a committee from many former jurors (who), as a result of doing nothing more than their civic duty, were exposed to horrific evidence and as a result suffered from stress, anxiety and even PTSD,” Cooper said.

But after trials were wrapped up, jurors were not able to get the mental health support they needed because of a rule swearing them to secrecy.

“(The law) makes it a Criminal Code offence to disclose what took place in the course of jury deliberations to anyone for life,” Cooper said.

The bill was born out of a key recommendation by the justice committee to help provide more support to jurors, who may suffer long after a trial has wrapped up.

“While some people are able to cope with experiencing and going through and seeing some very, very horrific evidence, others aren’t. We heard from jurors who are 20 years later still suffering as a result of their jury service, including one former juror who served on the (Paul) Bernardo jury,” Cooper said.

The MP noted every day across Canada there are gruesome trials where jurors are exposed to horrific events. He said while the problem might not be widespread, it is not insignificant either.

Cooper’s private members bill would provide a “narrow” exception to the jury secrecy rule and allow jurors to speak with mental health professionals, who are subject to their own confidentially rules, after a trial has concluded.

“It is a narrow exception and a minor carve-out, but I believe (it) will go a long way to helping jurors who are suffering from PTSD or other mental health challenges arising from their jury service to get the help that they need,” Cooper said.

The bill had the unanimous support of the all-party justice committee. Cooper has the support of the NDP, including MP Murray Rankin who is the justice critic for the party, and members the Liberal Party.

“We compel Canadians to serve as jurors, so we must do everything we can to support them if they need our help. Mr. Cooper’s bill is a step toward that goal. Professional, accessible mental health support is crucial and this Bill will help ensure jurors can feel free to consult mental health professionals about what can be a profoundly difficult experience,” Rankin said.

The bill will be debated in early February and Cooper said he hopes it will pass quickly, as the clock is ticking on parliament with an election slated for next fall.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.