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House applauds Cooper for bill to support jurors' mental health

The bill will take effect and become law 90 days after receiving royal assent.
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St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper was given a round of applause in the House of Commons after the passing on third reading of a bill that supports the mental health of jurors on Sept. 28, 2022. SCREENSHOT/Photo

For decades jurors have suffered with mental-health issues in silence due to the jury secrecy rule, but that is about to change.

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, Bill S-206 — an act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors) — was unanimously adopted after third reading in the House of Commons, with 323 votes in favour.

The bill amends the Criminal Code so it is no longer a criminal offence for a juror or anyone providing technical, interpretative, or other support services to a juror to disclose information about a trial to a health-care provider if they are suffering from mental-health issues.

The bill was introduced into the Senate by Conservative Sen. Pierre Boisvenu on Nov. 24, 2021, and was sponsored by St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper.

Cooper said the bill has been a long time coming and called the issue a “no-brainer.”

“Before introducing the bill, I reflected long and hard about what arguments could be put forward against carving out this exception, and I honestly could not think of a good argument … It protects the integrity of the jury secrecy rule, but at the same time allows jurors to be able to talk about all aspects of jury service with a medical professional bound by confidentiality,” he said.

The bill came about after a 2018 justice committee report on improving support for jurors.

Mark Farrant, CEO and founder of the Canadian Juries Commission, has been advocating for a change to the jury secrecy rule for nearly a decade.

“This bill … really stems from my experience and the experiences of many others who were shut out of the therapeutic community and from receiving therapy,” he said.

Farrant developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being a juror on a murder trial in 2014.

He found it difficult to find support for his health issues after the trial.

“A lot of mental-health practitioners were very reticent to take on jurors because of the legal ramifications and many of them just not knowing whether they could …I  found it very difficult to find somebody who was willing to even take me on,” he said.

It took Farrant nearly two years to find someone who was willing to support him.

Farrant began to speak out about his experiences in the media and was subsequently contacted by other former jurors who were having similar experiences.

“It dawned on all of us that this was a systemic problem, and it wasn't isolated to a particular case. It was the fact that we just weren't supporting jurors and we’d ignored this problem for decades. And part of that is because jurors aren't allowed to talk and express themselves after a case,” he said.

In 2017, Farrant and 11 other jurors started writing letters to Parliament. They called the campaign “12 Angry Letters.” Their letter-writing campaign spurred the justice committee to undertake a study, which they participated in.

“That study, in 2018, bore out a series of recommendations, both federal recommendations and recommendations to the provinces and territories, to improve jury duty. This bill came from one of those recommendations,” he said.

The bill then became what Farrant called a “victim of circumstance,” when it died on the order paper three times.

“It's a wonderful feeling that this has finally gone through,” said Farrant.

Both Farrant and Cooper said more needs to be done to support jurors in Canada. Both called the support jurors receive from the provinces a patchwork system.

“There's no court level or provincially mandated therapy or counselling to jurors, and that's a real problem,” said Farrant. “In some cases, the province right next door has some form of support, but that juror looks over the fence and is frustrated and is going through difficulties and not able to get the same level of comparable support.”

Farrant also thinks the federal government must provide funding for jury duty, as it is a federal mandate administered by the province, just like health care.

He also believes juror need to be paid more.

“We need to increase juror pay, especially now in this climate, the economic distress. In most provinces, we're not even paying jurors minimum wage,’ he said. “Jury pay in many provinces hasn't changed in 20 years or 30 years. It's unacceptable.”

Farrant said Alberta has among the lowest pay for jurors in the country at $50 per day. He would like the standard to be raised to at least $150 per day.

In terms of this bill, Cooper said it is important it passed.

“A juror should not be left to suffer for doing simply their civic duty. Jury service, after all, is the last mandatory form of civic duty,” he said.

“There's lots of work still left to do, in terms of improving support for former jurors, but this is a major step forward,” he said.

The bill will take effect and become law 90 days after receiving royal assent.

About the Author: Jessica Nelson

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