Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand in the House today to speak to Bill S-206. I want to acknowledge that I am doing so in the midst of Canadian Jury Duty Appreciation Week, which runs from May 8 until May 14.
It is very timely that we are having a discussion on Bill S-206. I also want to acknowledge the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, who has sponsored this Senate bill here in the House. I have stood to second the bill. As I mentioned in my comments to him earlier, it is not very often that one will see a New Democrat standing to second a Conservative private member's bill, but that does speak to the fact that this is an important bill.
In the House, we get exposed to all kinds of ideas for legislation. We have to look at them on their merits and look at what they are trying to achieve, but sometimes a bill of the calibre of Bill S-206 comes around and one knows it is going to make a measurable difference in people's lives, and those people are jurors.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the extremely important role that they play not only in our society, but specifically in our justice system. These are people who are our ordinary peers. Trial by jury means, essentially, a trial by one's peers. They are selected from a broad cross-section of Canadian society, so that we get an exposure to all kinds of viewpoints and all kinds of different backgrounds.
They are, in a sense, ordinary Canadians who are essentially dragooned into service and, in the course of their deliberations, have to make extremely heavy decisions. With regard to some trials, their decisions are going to have extremely serious consequences, either for the accused or for the victims. That weighs heavily on people's minds.
In order for those jurors to make those verdicts, they have to be exposed to all of the evidence collected by police services in the course of the investigation. Sometimes that can involve very disturbing photographs that the coroner had to take, the results of autopsies and pictures of murder weapons. In very disturbing cases, it has involved photos of the crime that was perpetrated, and sometimes even video footage.
Jurors have to be exposed to all of that evidence so that no stone is left unturned when they are making their deliberations, and so that they can render an appropriate verdict based on the evidence they have been subjected to.
The problem is that when the jurors do their duty, after having been exposed to horrific evidence, they are essentially let loose back into the public realm with a handshake and thanks for their service. There is no ability for them to discuss, in any way, what they saw during their deliberations. The evidence that they had to deal with, and the discussions they had with other jurors, have to stay bottled up inside them. They have to carry that to the grave, because of a requirement of our existing Criminal Code.
My colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, quoted several jurors during the course of his speech: testimony from Mark Farrant, testimony from Tina Daenzer and testimony from Patrick Fleming. These are the jurors who have really been spearheading this campaign, and it was their work that made sure that, in 2018, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted the first-ever parliamentary study on juror supports.
During that committee, we had jurors come before us to relive their experiences, to share with the committee what they had gone through, and to say why these reforms were so very necessary.
My role in that whole process started a year earlier, in 2017. That is when I first met Mr. Mark Farrant and Mr. Patrick Fleming, two of the individuals who organized the 12 Angry Letters campaign. It was a campaign on behalf of jurors across Canada who had been witness to some of the most horrific and graphic crimes imaginable. I sat in on that press conference with former NDP MP Murray Rankin, and it was at that time that I made the decision that this issue had to be looked at: It had to be studied at the justice committee.
On June 8, 2017, I presented a motion at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. It was during that year that I had the honour of serving as the NDP's critic for justice. I was very fortunate, when I presented the motion, that my colleagues on the committee immediately saw the value in that study, and we had a unanimous vote on it. Stepping forward a year, the motion resulted in a comprehensive report, with one of its recommendations leading us to the conversation we are having today: it very solidly recommended the bill that the House is now deliberating.
The issue comes down to section 649 of the Criminal Code, commonly known as the “jury secrecy rule”. In its current form, it essentially prevents all jurors from relating anything about proceedings. That is the crux of the matter.
We can just imagine putting ourselves in jurors' shoes. They have just gone through a trial and had to render a verdict that has had a very real consequence on someone's life, they have spent time away from family and work colleagues, and they are suddenly back at home and reliving all of those images. They cannot escape them, and are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder with no ability to speak to a mental health professional to try to find some guidance to work through it. This is something that we owe to these men and women to fix. The recommendation in question was very specific, which was that the government amend section 649 so that jurors are permitted to discuss the deliberations with a designated mental health professional once the trial is over.
We are not doing this is in a vacuum. Juror access to mental health professionals already exists in the state of Victoria in Australia. That state's Juries Act stipulates that jury deliberations are to remain confidential, but it does provide for an exception. The law states that:
Nothing…prevents a person who has been a juror from disclosing any statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast in the course of the deliberations of that jury to a registered medical practitioner or a registered psychologist in the course of treatment in relation to issues arising out of the person’s service as a juror.
Our committee studied the approach, and we recommended that Canada adopt a similar model, because there have been no negative consequences from having that law in existence.
In the final couple of minutes that I have, allow me to say this: If Bill S-206 is adopted, it would implement an important recommendation, and I underline that point. This issue has been studied to death. We are now five years past when we initiated this study. We have had witness after witness confirm that this would be a beneficial change. I see no negative drawbacks from us proceeding down this route. Really, it is about our service as parliamentarians to recognize what the men and women on our juries do for us pretty much every day, right across this country from coast to coast to coast.
There were some conversations around the House today to see if we could get this bill expedited. Ultimately, we could not find agreement on that front, so I will close by saying that I hope the House sees value in passing this bill as expeditiously as possible, and when we send it to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I hope that the members of that committee take note of the great amount of work that has already been done on this bill, that they seek to report it back to the House as soon as possible, and that we vote on it a final time and send it to the Governor General, where it rightly belongs, so that she may sign it into law and we can finally make sure that jurors in Canada have access to mental health professionals as they so rightly deserve.