, seconded by the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, moved that Bill S-206, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak on Bill S-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code. It is a bill that will go a long way to supporting juror mental health in Canada, and it is quite appropriate that we are debating the bill this week, as it is Jury Duty Appreciation Week. More specifically, this proposed legislation would amend section 649 of the Criminal Code, which is often known as the “jury secrecy” rule.
As it stands, it is a Criminal Code offence for a former juror to disclose any aspect of the jury deliberation process with anyone for life, even a medical professional. The bill before us would carve out a narrow exception to that rule, whereby a former juror who is suffering from mental health issues arising from jury service would be able to disclose all aspects of that service, including the deliberation process, to a medical professional bound by confidentiality.
The bill would implement a key recommendation from the unanimous report of the justice committee in 2018 arising from a study on juror supports, which was initiated by the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, whom I am very proud to have as a seconder. I want to acknowledge his advocacy for juror mental health.
This legislation is based on a law that currently exists in the Australian state of Victoria. It is a bill that has had unanimous support all the way through. I introduced a substantively similar bill back in the 42nd Parliament that passed all legislative stages in the House unanimously. Unfortunately, it died on the Order Paper due to the call of the 2019 election.
Following the 2019 election, I reached out to Senator Pierre Boisvenu and Senator Lucie Moncion, who is a former juror who suffered from mental health issues arising from her jury service. Senator Boisvenu, with the support of Senator Moncion, introduced the same bill in the Senate. We hoped that it would proceed expeditiously there. Unfortunately, it did not: not because of a lack of support, but because of COVID and the fact that the other place took up largely government business through the 43rd Parliament.
Then, we had another election. Senator Boisvenu introduced a bill yet again and, thanks to his leadership and the leadership of Senator Moncion, it passed the upper place unanimously in December. In the nearly seven years that I have been a member of Parliament, I have not seen very many issues on which there was such broad agreement: unanimous support from all parliamentarians at all legislative stages, and unanimous support from key stakeholders including former jurors, lawyers and medical professionals.
Jurors play an integral role in the administration of justice in Canada, often at a considerable cost, including to one's mental health. I think a lot of Canadians appreciate the work of jurors, but unless one is a former juror, sometimes it is difficult to fully comprehend exactly what jury service involves.
When we commenced the juror supports study, we heard from former jurors who had gone through very difficult trials, who had been exposed to horrific evidence and who suffered from mental health issues arising from their jury service, including PTSD. I think it is important that some of the testimony we heard before the justice committee is entered into the record of this place to provide an understanding and a context for why this bill is needed.
One of the jurors who appeared before the justice committee was Tina Daenzer. Tina served as juror number one in the Paul Bernardo trial. This is what she had to say about her experience:
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.
Tina suffered from PTSD following the Bernardo trial. That trial was in 1995. Twenty-seven years later, Tina is still dealing with the residual effects of that trial.
Mark Farrant came before our committee, and I was honoured to have him join me and colleagues across party lines today. Mark is one of the leading advocates for juror supports and addressing the issue of juror mental health. He is the president of the Canadian Juries Commission, which is doing important work in that area, but at one time Mark was a jury foreman in a particularly gruesome trial. This is what he said when he came to the justice committee:
As a juror, you are extremely isolated. You cannot communicate with anyone in any form about the events in court or even really with other jurors. I would leave the court in a trance, not remembering even how I got home. I would stare blankly into space during meetings at work or at home while my three-year old daughter tried desperately to engage with me. My then pregnant wife, who had such an engaged husband during her first pregnancy, now had an emotional zombie in me, unable or unwilling to communicate.
I expected these feelings to subside as I left the courthouse on the day the verdict was delivered....
My feelings didn't subside. They intensified and deepened. After the trial, I cut off communication with all friends and family, only interacting with colleagues at work, and then only superficially. I became hypervigilant around my kids, refusing to let them walk alone, even a few steps in front of me. I became unable to handle crowds and public spaces. My diet changed. I was unable to look at and prepare raw meat without gagging, something that persists to this day.
Patrick Fleming, who was a juror on a 10-month murder trial, also shared a similar story. He spoke about the need to get help. He said, “I so desperately needed to talk to a professional, someone who could help me work through my feelings and thoughts.”
That is just a taste of the testimony that we heard at the justice committee from these and other former jurors. Their stories and their experiences are felt by thousands of jurors across Canada. Of course, not everyone has PTSD and not everyone suffers from mental health issues, even jurors who go through very difficult trials, but different people react differently. It is a very serious issue involving jurors that has to be addressed for them to get the help they need. Clearly, jurors should not be cast aside and ignored, when they are merely fulfilling what is the last mandatory forum of civic duty since the abolition of conscription.
At the justice committee, one of the things we looked at in impediments for jurors to get the full support and help that they need is the juror secrecy rule. That is because, in part, the deliberation process is one of, if not the, most stressful aspects of jury service. I ask members to imagine being sequestered with other strangers, having to go through horrific evidence with the pressure of making a decision, and having the regard for the gravity of that decision, including, perhaps, sending someone to jail for the rest of his or her life, not to mention the impact that such an outcome could have on victims and victims' families, and the desire to see that justice is carried out.
Dr. Sonia Chopra, a psychologist who was a former juror and who has done considerable work around juror supports, identified, as a result of conducting a number of interviews with former jurors, that of the 10 top stressors of jury duty, seven of the 10 involve the deliberation process and the determination of a verdict. That, then, begs the question, of how can one get better. How can one get the help they need to get better when they cannot talk about what is at the core of their injury?
That is where this bill comes in. It carves out a narrow exception to the jury secrecy rule so jurors are not inhibited, all the while protecting the integrity of that rule. There are good reasons for the jury secrecy rule. They include the need to see the finality of the verdict, to respect the privacy of former jurors and to respect the sanctity of the deliberation process. None of those things are impacted or impeded upon as a result of this bill because, again, this narrow exception would be posttrial in a strictly confidential context, namely with a medical professional bound by confidentiality.
This bill has been studied exhaustively. It has received unanimous support at all stages. We owe it to jurors in Canada to support them and to help them be able to get the help they need. This bill is a small but important step in that direction. I urge its speedy passage.