Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation to present.
Yesterday you heard from Madam Justice Sheilah Martin, who was my law school Ethics professor. One of the things Sheilah didn't talk about was a particularly difficult case she had a few years back. Dustin Paxton was charged with incredible abuse of his roommate, to the point that when the roommate was dropped off at the hospital in another province, he was so disfigured that it took the hospital days to figure out his identity.
Multiple experts, including me, were involved in the case: court clerks, police officers from two provinces, lawyers, and Madam Justice Martin herself. All of those individuals had access to mental health supports afterwards. Also, I know that to varying degrees, each was impacted by that particular case.
Imagine, then, the scenario in which an envelope shows up on your doorstep summoning you to jury duty. You are not an individual who typically spends much time in the justice system; you're not a member of the media; and you're not a member of the legal profession, but you are compelled to show up and take responsibility for determining the fate of one of your fellow citizens.
You are not appropriately compensated for that. In Ontario, there is no pay for the first 10 days that somebody serves on jury duty. In Alberta, we'll pay you $50 a day for showing up for jury duty. Every province—to my understanding—has a minimum wage standard, but we don't pay even the minimum wage to the jurors who are showing up to provide that responsibility. In fact, in some provinces they'll even have to pay for their own parking. With child care and other sorts of related expenses, those stresses start to add up.
The first thing people do when they receive their jury summons is to start thinking about how they can get out of it. We end up with a situation in which, effectively, people who are members of unions or people who are well paid in their other practices, through passive income, for example, are the only folks who are able to serve on juries—hardly a jury of one's peers.
Imagine then a trial such as either of the two gruesome trials we had in Alberta earlier this year: Douglas Garland, charged with the murder of grandparents Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their grandson, Nathan O'Brien; or Derek Saretzky, charged with the murder of three individuals in southern Alberta. Each of those was a jury trial; each lasted for weeks; and each involved graphic testimony.
In the case of the Garland trial, there was evidence that Mr. Garland had hung the victims on a meat hook, which was subsequently tested for DNA that showed the presence of the victims. That meat hook was passed around, albeit in a plastic bag, from juror to juror with the sound of the thud on the table as it moved through the participants.
It's not surprising then, that while people are thinking about the financial impact or the scheduling impact of serving on a jury, they don't spend as much time thinking about the mental health impact of serving on a jury. But we know—as my colleagues will tell you—that some evidence points to the occurrence of post-traumatic stress, to symptoms of anxiety, depression, anorexia, sleeplessness, and other forms of nervousness.
Then at the end of the trial process you are told—in some provinces—that you may get access to four sessions of counselling over the next two months, or you may not get access to any sorts of counselling.
But the very first instruction jurors are given, when they start their responsibility, is the instruction from the judge that they are not to discuss this case with anyone other than the members of the jury when they are all present. You heard two weeks ago the compelling stories of four jurors who sat on lengthy trials. Mark, for example, is not able to talk to his friends or family members about what he is going through. When you and I have a bad day, and we want to find some way to debrief and unwind, we talk to a spouse, a family member, or a close friend. We may talk to a psychologist or other therapist. That's the way we unwind, but jurors are specifically told that this tool is not available to them.
In the Garland trial, we had Justice David Gates going out of his way to look after the mental health of the jurors, but now that caution—that support for the jurors—is actually one of the grounds being used in the appeal as suggesting that he was biased in his rulings by being so protective of the jurors' mental health.
We end up, then, in the situation where we don't tell people what it is they're getting into; we don't support them when they're in the process; and we give very limited support to them after the process.
What I'm proposing to you is a series of steps—and I'll put a formal document before you over the next little while—that deal with the information that should be provided to jurors before they get involved in jury duty. It reminds them of their own resiliency skills and the things they typically do to look after themselves, and gives them more information about things like voir dires that are going to disrupt the trial process. There may be days when they're not called to be there, and they have absolutely no information about what's going on. There should be information about some of the mechanics, about who's going to pay for parking, and what sort of compensation they're going to receive. Then during the trial there should be a process that allows those people to have access to a counsellor, a psychologist, or other therapist who's been appropriately designated by the province, who doesn't talk about the trial, but provides support to those jurors who may be in lengthy trial processes. It's about making sure that we have adequate compensation so there isn't a financial stress that goes along with that, and perhaps in some of the longer trials even thinking about having a mandatory break. You heard about a juror who served on a 10-month trial. There wasn't a vacation break along the way. Nobody paid them to take a week off and not come in for jury duty, and yet everybody else who would typically be involved in a process over that length of time would be allowed to have a vacation.
Then there are the things we do afterwards. Juries, as you well know, are never allowed to discuss the deliberations. They're never allowed to talk to anybody about what happened in the jury room. But I can tell you that some of the jurors who've approached me over the last couple of years, who've sought out counselling because they found the provincial programs to be lacking, have talked about how stressful that part of the process was. They've impartially listened to all of the witnesses. They've heard the evidence. They've handled the exhibits. When they get into the jury room, some of them have told me, there's been a unanimous decision about what the verdict is going to be, but then a lengthy discussion, over hours, and even over days, about how each juror reached that particular decision. We know from some of the limited research on jurors that the deliberation process can be just as stressful as the rest of the process.
Again, what I'm proposing to you is this. If you look at section 10 of the Divorce Act, you see it allows for a judge to nominate an individual who would assess whether or not there's any possibility of reconciliation for this couple. The information that's disclosed during that assessment process is never compellable in any other setting and cannot be disclosed even with the consent of the husband and wife. A similar condition that would allow jurors, with a designated service provider, to talk about everything they've been involved with would then start to do the things that we need to do to look after the jurors' mental health.
I look forward to answering your questions. I'm happy to talk more about this. It's something that I've advocated on for years. I greatly appreciate the committee's interest in taking on this topic at this particular time.