Evidence of meeting #78 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was jurors.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Shauna Jobagy  Deputy Clerk of the Court, Court of Queen's Bench, Alberta Juror Support Program
Dora Newcombe  Alberta Juror Support Program
Claude Bourque  Ontario Juror Support Program
Shannon Jensen  Manager, Court Operations, Yukon Court Services
Julia Bielecka  Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

4:30 p.m.

Alberta Juror Support Program

Dora Newcombe

Mr. Chair, I'd be happy to answer Mr. Liepert's question.

Through Morneau Shepell we have a network of counsellors who work for us in various contractual arrangements and agreements. They range from full-time salaried counsellors to counsellors that may be contracted, especially in smaller communities where they might not see that many clients. It might be a small hamlet where there aren't a lot of customers. There is the option for individuals to access counselling through a method that works for them.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Liepert Conservative Calgary Signal Hill, AB

Okay, thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

If there are no further questions, we're going to now change panels.

I want to thank both of you ladies for your testimony. It was extremely helpful to all of us. We learned an awful lot. I congratulate Alberta on, as Mr. Nicholson said, being really avant-garde and a leader in this area in Canada. Thank you again so much for joining us.

We'll adjourn for a second as we change panels.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

I will call this session back to order.

We're very honoured to be joined by our next panel as we continue our study into mental health supports for jurors.

We are joined, from the Ontario Juror Support Program, by Ms. Julia Bielecka, manager of operational support, court services division, Ministry of the Attorney General. Welcome.

We're also joined, through video conference from Toronto, by Monsieur Claude Bourque. Monsieur Bourque, bienvenue.

Welcome, Mr. Bourque.

November 29th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.

Claude Bourque Ontario Juror Support Program

Thank you very much.

It's good to be here.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

From Yukon Court Services, we have Ms. Shannon Jensen, who is the manager of court operations. Welcome, Ms. Jensen.

4:35 p.m.

Shannon Jensen Manager, Court Operations, Yukon Court Services

Thank you.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

We'll start with Ontario and then move to Yukon.

Ms. Bielecka, the floor is yours.

4:35 p.m.

Julia Bielecka Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, members, and good afternoon, Chair.

On behalf of the Province of Ontario and the assistant deputy attorney general of court services division, Ms. Sheila Bristo, I thank you for inviting me today to this important discussion about supports for jurors.

My name is Julia Bielecka, and as the chair mentioned, I am the manager of the operational support branch in the court services division of Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General. My area is responsible for providing policy guidance and support to the jury process in the province.

In the time allotted to us today I will provide a high-level overview of the jury process in Ontario and the types of supports that are currently in place for jurors, including information about Ontario's juror support program, through which we provide counselling support for jurors.

We believe that serving as a juror is an important public service. Juries are drawn from a broad cross-section of society, and because of that, they can act as the conscience of the community. Those who participate often feel a heightened sense of community involvement because they have done their part to make sure justice has been served.

What does jury service look like in Ontario right now? Each year approximately 500,000 questionnaires are mailed out across the province to prospective jurors, who are selected randomly from the most recent municipal voters lists. For people living in a first nation community, other lists, such as band lists, are used. The juror questionnaire is used to determine whether a questionnaire recipient is eligible for jury duty. The questions in the questionnaire are based on eligibility requirements in Ontario's Juries Act.

Upon completing and returning a juror questionnaire, if an individual is eligible for jury duty, he or she is placed on a jury roll. The following year the individual may be randomly chosen from the roll to receive a “summons to juror” notice, which tells them that they must attend court on a specific date to be considered further for serving on the jury. They may also be chosen to serve as jurors at a coroner's inquest.

If an individual is selected to sit on a jury for a trial or inquest, they will be advised of the estimated length as part of the selection process. Some jurors may be required for several days and others for several weeks. There's no set time limit. Informing the juror of the estimated length as part of the selection process helps them gain an understanding as to how long they may need to be away from family and work.

In Ontario we provide a number of supports to jurors. First, to help potential jurors understand the jury process, Ontario created a jury duty video. It is called Jury Duty and You. Jurors can view the video when attending court for their summons or they can view the video online on our website or on YouTube.

We also currently provide financial support to jurors in certain circumstances. A juror may be paid for daily travel expenses, accommodation, or when serving on a trial for more than 10 days. There is currently no allowance for child or elder care. The ministry is carefully considering how best to address this issue, as we understand that this may be a hardship for some jurors. The payment of jurors is made in accordance with the requirements of Ontario's Juries Act and regulation 4 of the Administration of Justice Act.

If a potential juror needs accommodation for a disability, they are encouraged to contact the court office as soon as they receive their summons. Every effort is made to provide necessary accommodations for people with disabilities to participate fully in the jury process. For example, a judge may allow an individual to use technical, personal, interpretive, or other support services to enable that person to serve on the jury. If a juror is receiving employment insurance benefits, they can attend jury duty and continue to receive their benefits.

While jury duty is an important civic responsibility and can be rewarding, it can often be very difficult and stressful for jurors. The evidence in the testimony some jurors hear can be graphic. It can deal with very traumatic and violent crimes. In some cases, individuals have to take significant time away from their jobs, their families, and their lives. Talking to a qualified counsellor can help jurors after a trial or inquest.

The juror support program, which Ontario established in partnership with Morneau Shepell in January 2017, is available for Ontario's jurors at the conclusion of a trial or inquest. Jurors are able to receive up to eight one-hour counselling sessions. A juror can speak with a counsellor toll free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Jurors can receive this counselling in any manner they choose—in person, over the phone, by email, or by video conference, in English or French. They also receive disability accommodation when requested. There are no out-of-pocket expenses for jurors, and the program is completely confidential.

Supporting jurors to perform their civic duty and making counselling more easily accessible for those who need it are very important to the ministry and the province. Since the launch of our program in January 2017, 24 jurors have contacted Morneau Shepell for counselling.

Ontario recognizes that the jury process may be challenging and stressful for some individuals. If a prospective juror has questions or if they require assistance in completing the jury questionnaire, they're able to contact ministry staff from our provincial jury centre from Monday to Friday. Once they're summoned, they can contact the courthouse to which they have been summoned before their court date. If an individual has concerns or difficulties once they arrive at the courthouse, they can speak to one of our court services officers or a jury clerk for assistance at any point in time.

A juror can also make a request to the presiding judicial official to be excused from further participation in a trial or inquest if they feel that they cannot continue on in the process. At that point, the judge or coroner will determine whether to grant that juror's request.

Beyond the supports outlined above, a judicial officer may grant additional supports or compensation at their discretion.

We do our best to ensure that concerns raised receive a respectful and effective response.

I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm Ontario's commitment to ensuring a positive experience for jurors who serve on a trial or inquest.

On behalf of the ministry, thank you very much, and I also thank all those who participate in the jury process each year in Ontario. We are always open to considering feedback on how to improve the jury process in Ontario.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have today, and we look forward to receiving the recommendations of this committee in the future.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much, Ms. Bielecka. It's very much appreciated.

We'll move to Ms. Jensen.

4:40 p.m.

Manager, Court Operations, Yukon Court Services

Shannon Jensen

Thank you.

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to present information on Yukon's new juror support program.

To begin, I should note that our program is new only in the sense that Yukon brought in a formal program this year. In fact, Yukon's courts have recognized the need for psychological support for jurors since at least 2001, when the presiding judge ordered that a group debriefing session be offered to jurors after a first-degree murder trial. This type of support was also subsequently arranged after other trials when the judiciary determined that the court proceedings may have been uncomfortable or difficult for jurors. That remains a possibility to this day.

Several years after that initial session, in anticipation of a number of upcoming murder trials, Yukon applied for and received federal funding to research the jury experience during such trials. As part of that research project, Yukon arranged for a voluntary group debriefing session led by two contracted psychologists, to be held 24 hours to 72 hours after the conclusion of each of three trials. Some of the recommendations stemming from that study informed the development of the formal program that was started in 2017, including that printed materials be provided and that individual debriefing sessions be offered.

In the development of Yukon's juror support program, we sought advice from our colleagues in both Alberta and Ontario, from whom you have already heard today. Our program is similar to theirs in that we offer a printed brochure to all jurors after each jury trial that identifies common signs and symptoms of stress reactions, offers suggestions for self-care and ways that family and friends can help, and provides information on how to access professional counselling services on a voluntary and confidential basis. These services are provided by the same counselling service that is contracted by Yukon government to offer the employee and family assistance program, but jurors do not have to be Yukon government employees to access the juror support program. That counselling service is currently provided by Morneau Shepell.

Each juror can access up to four counselling sessions free of charge to help them process their reactions to the trial. Two additional sessions may also be offered at the discretion of the counsellor, and more may also be approved if needed. Because jurors may experience both immediate and delayed reactions, there is no time limit by which jurors must access the sessions. Counselling services are available in a number of different formats, including in person and by phone, and are completely confidential.

However, because the counselling service provides statistics on the juror support program, we are able to tell what percentage of jurors are accessing the support. In the first few months of operation of our program, we have seen an uptake rate of about 17%, which indicates that there is interest in this service in the Yukon.

In addition to the post-trial support program outlined just now, consideration has also been given to providing information to our jurors at the beginning of trials in order to help them prepare to process the material they will be exposed to. Yukon is therefore very interested in the work and recommendations of this committee in that regard.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I would be happy to answer any questions that committee members may have.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much. It's very much appreciated to hear both of those presentations.

Now we'll move to questions from the panel to both Ontario and Yukon. We'll start with Mr. Nicholson.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Thank you very much.

Thank you very much for your testimony here. These are important breakthroughs, quite frankly, and it's a step forward that both jurisdictions are now providing that counselling. As you know from the earlier testimony we had before this committee, this is extremely important.

Ms. Bielecka, you said that one thing being considered is assisting people in compensating them for their child care and elder care. You said it's under consideration. Can you tell us how long it has been under consideration?

4:45 p.m.

Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

Julia Bielecka

We always evaluate the supports that we provide to jurors, and child care and elder care come up for certain individuals, so we have been considering that, but I'm not sure for how long. In the course of simply doing our regular work, we do try to improve and provide as many supports as we can to anyone who needs them. That's one thing that has come up for certain people.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I certainly hope so.

Maybe you could also tell me the last time compensation for people serving on juries was changed in Ontario. Do you know how long ago it was set?

4:50 p.m.

Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

Julia Bielecka

I can tell you what the compensation is for jurors—

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I know what the compensation is. Do you remember what year it was implemented and how long it has been the same? Maybe you could check into that for me.

I have a feeling it has not been altered for a long time, and you probably have heard that people who serve on a jury in Ontario get nothing for the first two weeks. Then they get $40 a day if the trial lasts up to two months. Have you heard feedback from people that this puts a strain on their families and their financial situations?

4:50 p.m.

Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

Julia Bielecka

Compensation for jurors is not meant to be compensation for their time and service; it's part of supporting the civic jury process. It is meant to simply assist them in meeting their obligations. Compensation is an important issue for Ontario and—

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I agree with you. I think compensation is important, but also in the province of Ontario there is no requirement that employers pay their employees who are serving on jury duty, is there?

4:50 p.m.

Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

Julia Bielecka

That's right. There is no requirement at this time. There is a requirement for them to be offered time off to be allowed to participate, but employers are not expected or required to compensate jurors for that time.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

You can see that could put quite a strain on them. We have no requirement for them to pay these people who serve on a jury, say, for two months, and we in the province of Ontario don't pay them anything for the first couple of weeks of a trial, and then $40 a day—I have a feeling that this one has been kicking around for decades. What do you think?

4:50 p.m.

Manager, Operational Support, Court Services Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Juror Support Program

Julia Bielecka

Individuals are able to request an excusal for very many reasons. One of those could be financial hardship. We do have instances of individuals who have been summoned for jury duty making those concerns known to the court and to the judicial official, then it's up to the judicial official's discretion to excuse the person from jury duty. That is available to jurors in our province.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Sure, I can imagine it would be.

Mr. Chair, I wonder if you could check and find out when Ontario implemented those “compensation guidelines”.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

We will ask.

Ms. Bielecka, if you could provide us with that information once you have researched it, it would be very much appreciated.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I'm sure it's part of the public record somewhere, but thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Thank you.