Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-417, an act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), initiated by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.
As is readily apparent this evening, the bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to provide that the prohibition against the disclosure of information relating to jury proceedings does not, in certain circumstances, apply in respect of disclosure by jurors to health care professionals.
Our government indeed recognizes the crucial role in dedicated service of jurors in the Canadian justice system, as stated by a former juror, Mark Farrant, who was indeed quoted by the moving member, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. Mr. Farrant said in his testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that, “Jurors are an important pillar of the justice system.”
Members heard reference to Mr. Farrant, repeatedly, this evening.
Before November 22 of last year and February 8 of this year, that justice committee undertook a study that culminated in their report, “Improving support for jurors in Canada”, which was rendered in May of this year. The committee held eight meetings in Ottawa to hear evidence from witnesses, including former jurors, Canadian and foreign government representatives who work directly with jurors or in justice departments, Canadian and international lawyers, and other experts interested in the stresses that are associated with jury duty.
Again, those committee deliberations and that committee report have been referred to extensively in the speeches we have heard thus far tonight.
First of all, I want to indicate our thanks to the committee for their thorough study and their important report on this important issue. What I would like to do now is take a moment to explain the jury process in Canada, because understanding the roles that jurors are asked to play is necessary to finding solutions to assist them with the difficulties that can result from their very important public service.
For criminal cases, section 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a trigger. What that does is it grants any person charged with an offence the right:
....to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.
As provided in section 471 of the Criminal Code:
Except where otherwise expressly provided by law, every accused who is charged with an indictable offence shall be tried by a court composed of a judge and jury.
When a person is charged with a crime listed in section 469 of the Criminal Code, the trial will automatically take place before a judge and jury, unless the person charged with the offence and the Attorney General agree to a trial without a jury.
In all of these types of criminal cases, the jury is called upon to reach a unanimous verdict, determining whether the accused is guilty beyond a standard of what is called “a reasonable doubt” based on the evidence presented by the prosecution.
In the context of civil cases, juries also have a role to play. While most civil cases are heard by a judge alone, a defendant may also have the right to a trial by judge and jury, depending on the nature of the case and the court. Civil juries must decide, on a balance of probabilities, whether the plaintiff proved that the defendant violated civil law. There are six jurors in a civil case and at least five of them are asked to agree upon a civil verdict.
Finally, there is also an aspect of coroners' inquests that is triggered when we discuss jurors. Coroners' inquests, which aim to inform the public of the circumstances of a death, require jurors as well. Jurors must respond to questions about the circumstances of a death and may make non-binding recommendations. Unlike civil or criminal cases, jurors in coroners' inquests are not required to render a verdict on anyone's legal responsibility.
Serving as a juror in any of these capacities that I have just outlined can involve significant stress. We have heard a lot of testimony and a lot of submissions today in this chamber about the stresses the jurors face. Those stresses have the potential to seriously affect a juror's life. What causes stress varies from one person to another, evidently. Several examples were raised by witnesses at committee. I would like to discuss some of these.
For many Canadians, being summoned for jury duty is the first and maybe the only experience they will have with the justice system. As a result, few prospective jurors are knowledgeable about what jury duty entails, and that unfamiliarity with the process itself often generates anxiety. Many individuals may therefore feel overwhelmed and stressed when they are summoned for jury duty.
As expressed by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty, “...jurors are moving into an environment that is very unfamiliar to them. This can be very intimidating, and that alone can be somewhat stressful.”
Being exposed to disturbing information is also a fundamental aspect of what jurors are faced with. Again, we heard extensively about this this evening.
It goes without saying that some legal proceedings deal with truly horrific and horrible crimes and involve traumatic and explicit evidence and testimony, which can include disturbing audio and video. This can be extremely stressful for jurors who are exposed to it.
We heard this quote earlier, but it bears repeating. Mark Farrant explained:
Images would haunt me day after day, an unrelenting bombardment of horror. My daughter's red finger painting would hurtle me back to the scene of the crime and I would stare transfixed, seemingly out of space and time.
With respect to deliberations, some jurors explained that they were uncomfortable with challenging group dynamics and the confrontations that sometimes occurred between jurors. Therefore, the deliberation process itself can be stress-inducing.
Other individuals spoke about their significant fear of making the wrong decision or rendering a verdict that would have a life-altering impact, fuelling the gravity of the task that was before them.
Former juror Michaela Swan told the Standing Committee on Justice:
...the most difficult process in serving as a juror was that of deliberations and the resulting post-trial discharge...It's confusing and highly complicated, but there is an immense drive to do the right thing.
There is also an abruptness of the end of the trial. Generally, after a verdict is rendered, the duty of jurors comes to an end. The committee heard repeatedly that for a number of jurors, particularly the ones serving on extensive and gruesome trials or inquests, the transition back to normal life was indeed challenging.
Former juror Patrick Fleming explained:
We need assistance getting back to our “normal” life. We are civilians who did not choose this path for ourselves nor are we trained to deal with this type of situation. Being a juror is a monumental job that has had a major impact on my life.
Many of the former jurors who participated in the committee's study described the difficulties they experienced once the jury task concluded.
Michaela Swan, who I mentioned earlier, stated:
Within 20 minutes of delivering a verdict, and after four days of being sequestered, I walked through an open parking lot with 11 other strangers and returned to normal life. I had Sunday to reconnect with my family and was back to work Monday.
As Patrick Fleming explained:
At the end of the trial, it was so abrupt. One minute I was reading a guilty verdict to five individuals, putting them away for 25 years plus another 25, and then the very next minute the court doors opened, and I was going home. Think about that.
With respect to section 649 of the Criminal Code, some jurors described feelings of isolation. Currently, in Canada, jurors cannot discuss the case with anyone as per section 649 of the Criminal Code itself. They are cut off from their family, friends and usual support networks with whom they would normally share troubling information and receive advice or encouragement. This also can be an added stress.
As Patrick Fleming explained:
I felt isolated from my family and friends. I would distance myself, and I could not share what I was going through....I felt guilty for not being present for my family emotionally and physically.
The important work undertaken by the committee clearly shows that it is possible to prevent or reduce the stress on the juror's experience, particularly by improving the preparation process and the conditions under which jurors fulfill their duties throughout the legal proceedings, as well as by providing jurors with psychological support as needed.
As was also mentioned earlier, it is a worthwhile investment. According to the WHO, every dollar invested in mental health results in about $4 worth of savings.
It is important that we continue to work with the provinces and territories to find solutions that support jurors and their mental health, including an examination of section 649 of the Criminal Code.