moved that Bill C-417, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-417.
Bill C-417 seeks to amend section 649 of the Criminal Code, which is the jury secrecy rule. The jury secrecy rule prohibits a juror from talking about his or her experiences during jury deliberations for life. My bill would carve out a minor exception to the jury secrecy rule to better help jurors who are suffering from mental health challenges arising from their jury service to get the help they need.
Before I discuss the particulars of the exception proposed in my bill, it would be helpful to provide some context and some background to how I arrived at introducing this bill.
The bill arises from a study at the justice committee, of which I am a member, on juror supports. Indeed, it is the first parliamentary study on juror supports. In that regard, I would like to commend the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for his leadership in taking the initiative to bring about this study. It proved to be a valuable study that resulted in a unanimous committee report, with many important recommendations.
During the study, we heard from many former jurors who went through difficult trials and who were exposed to horrific evidence. We heard about the stress and anxiety that it caused them. We heard about how it impacted their relationships with others, including friends and family. We heard about the challenges they faced upon trying to return to work, upon trying to return to the life that they knew prior to jury service. We heard about the stress and anxiety, and even PTSD, they had suffered as a result of their jury service.
The testimony of these former jurors was extremely powerful. I would like to read into the record some of the testimony of the former jurors.
Mark Farrant, who served as a jury foreman in a particularly gruesome murder trial, said this of his experience:
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. Sometimes I would just start to cry for no reason at all. Intimacy with my spouse was impossible, and I found myself either sleeping downstairs on some kind of vigil, or sleeping in my children's rooms at the foot of their doors, if I even slept at all.
I began to see everything as a potential threat, and even began arming myself with knives “just in case”, I would say to myself, as I would take my children to the park to play. My daughter asked me one day why I was putting a knife in my jacket and I struggled to understand, even myself, why I was doing it, let alone to explain it to a three-year-old. I knew something was horribly wrong with me.
Indeed, something was horribly wrong. Mark Farrant was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his jury service.
Tina Daenzer, who more than two decades ago served on the Paul Bernardo jury, said:
At that moment I had no way to fully comprehend how bad it would be. Imagine watching young girls being raped and tortured over and over again. You couldn't close your eyes and you couldn't look away because your duty was to watch the evidence.
Many days I would go home in a fog, as if heavily medicated. I counted on my husband to care for our children and to assume most household responsibilities as I often had difficulty focusing on tasks after a day in court. Most nights the videos would play in my head over and over again. I had difficulty sleeping. Intimacy with my husband became nonexistent for a long time, even after the trial ended. I became afraid to go outside after dark, and to this day that still affects me. I have extreme distrust of strangers.
Then there is Scott Glew, who sat on a jury in a murder trial that involved the murder of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. He said this:
To this day, I worry all the time that something will happen to my kids, that someone in their life will hurt them the way the victim was hurt. I am super vigilant and accused of being way too overprotective, but knowing what I know, I cannot be too careful with who looks after my kids.
That is just a part of what was a lot of testimony, very powerful testimony, of jurors who quite courageously shared their stories, shared their experiences, shared about how their jury service changed their lives forever.
We heard at the justice committee that one of the biggest impediments for jurors to get the help that they needed was the jury secrecy rule.
The jury deliberation process is one of the most stressful aspects of jury service. After all, it is a time when jurors are sequestered with 11 other strangers, sometimes for hours, days or weeks, where they have to go through the evidence methodically, sometimes very disturbing and gruesome evidence, and ultimately decide the fate of an individual. In the most serious of cases that fate may be to put someone away for the rest of his or her life.
In that regard, Tina Daenzer, who served on the Bernardo jury, described this of the jury deliberation process. She stated:
After the Bernardo trial ended, I was only sequestered for one evening, and basically I got the question, “What took you so long?” You can't answer that. You can't discuss what the other people in the room would like to do or not like to do.
Again, you've seen the evidence and you've decided that the person is guilty, but...you are still sending that person to federal prison for the rest of their life. You shouldn't feel guilty, but somewhere deep down you still do. Talking through those things could be quite helpful.
Dr. Sonia Chopra, a psychologist who appeared before the justice committee, has undertaken a fairly extensive study around former jurors. She identified, as a result of her interviewing many former jurors, that seven out of the top 10 stressors for jurors occurred at the time of the verdict and the jury deliberation process leading up to that. In her study, she included some of the comments from jurors about the deliberation process.
One juror said, “The deliberation room, that's where the stress began. The trial was fun.”
Another juror said, “I was just appalled with the jury. If there's a weak link, that's where it was.”
Another said, “Stress wasn't because of the trial; it was because of the other jurors.”
Another said, “Infighting with the jury was my only source of stress.”
Another former juror said, “Deliberations were stressful for me and I'd been holding it in.”
Another said, “After the verdict, I was crying.”
Taken together, it is clear that for it to be a Criminal Code offence to talk about those experiences to a mental health professional is a serious impediment toward jurors getting the help that they need.
That is where this bill comes in. It seeks to make a minor exception to the jury secrecy rule, namely that a juror, in the course of getting mental health treatment arising from their jury service, could share his or her experiences with a mental health professional who is bound to confidentiality post-trial. This is consistent with an important recommendation of our unanimous report.
I want to stress that this minor carve-out is in no way inconsistent with the rationale underlying the jury secrecy rule, including ensuring the finality of a verdict and protecting the sanctity of the jury deliberation process because, again, this exception would only apply post-trial to a mental health professional who is bound by confidentiality.
Therefore, it may come as no surprise that at the committee this received very widespread support from the witnesses, including from former jurors, mental health professionals and lawyers, including William Trudell, the president of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. This is a non-partisan issue. It is a common-sense issue. It is about doing the right thing to help jurors get the help they need, by making a minor amendment to the Criminal Code.
In the non-partisan spirit of this bill, I am honoured that the member for Victoria, the NDP justice critic, who I have the honour to serve on the justice committee with, is the seconder of my bill. I am very pleased that the member for Mount Royal, who ably serves as the chair of the justice committee and played an important role in the study as chair, is supportive. I see my friend, the member for Oakville North—Burlington, who is a co-seconder, as well as other MPs on all sides of the House.
I am also very honoured that Mark Farrant, who is one of the leading advocates in Canada for juror supports, stood with me here in Ottawa when I announced this bill. Mark Farrant often says that jury service is the last mandatory form of service since the abolition of military conscription. In that regard, it is completely unacceptable that jurors are unable to get the help they need for doing nothing more than their civic duty. That needs to change. Bill C-417 would help change that, and on that basis, I urge the speedy passage of this bill.