Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding disclosure of information by jurors, because it interests me. Last June, I listened carefully to my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord's speech on the subject, followed the debate and asked a question.
I am the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, and I have substituted on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and even the Standing Committee on National Defence when they were dealing with very sensitive issues, such as rape and other types of sexual violence, so I understand the effect that this type of speech can have.
That being said, Bill S‑206 amends the Criminal Code “to provide that the prohibition against the disclosure of information relating to jury proceedings does not apply, in certain circumstances, in respect of disclosure by jurors to health care professionals”. The bill would enable jurors to disclose information that they heard during a trial or jury proceedings when consulting with a health care professional, whether it be a psychiatrist, doctor or psychologist.
The Bloc Québécois's position could not be clearer. We fully support this bill. Jurors take on a very big responsibility, and that responsibility itself can affect people who have a hard time being forced to make decisions that could change several people's lives. The juror may then be exposed to horrific testimony or evidence, compounding the trauma.
Today I want to speak from a legal perspective. I will be talking about the help that jurors need to cope with what they hear and about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in some cases.
I remind members that these people do not choose to become jurors. They are selected and have a legal obligation to fulfill that duty. They are not always prepared to live with what they hear. The legislator must help make this duty as painless as possible. Some jurors have their lives upended and are left to deal with their trauma alone. The government has a responsibility to these people.
Furthermore, if the juror feels the need to consult a professional who can help them overcome the trauma they have experienced, that professional is also bound by professional confidentiality requirements. Currently, section 649 of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence for jurors to disclose non-public information about the trial they are sitting on. The section states:
Every member of a jury, and every person providing technical, personal, interpretative or other support services to a juror with a physical disability, who, except for the purposes of
(a) an investigation of an alleged offence under subsection 139(2) in relation to a juror, or
(b) giving evidence in criminal proceedings in relation to such an offence,
discloses any information relating to the proceedings of the jury when it was absent from the courtroom that was not subsequently disclosed in open court is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
The jury secrecy rule, also known as “Lord Mansfield's rule”, is a cornerstone of common law and the British criminal justice system, which I heard about while studying law. The rule not only protects members of the jury, it also protects the integrity of the deliberation process and the validity of the decision.
Jurors' contribution to a trial is an important one. It strengthens public trust in the justice system because decisions are not made in an insular fashion by a single individual mechanically interpreting the law. The jury's importance has been noted and commented on in many different rulings, but one of the most eloquent was written by Justice L'Heureux‑Dubé, who neatly summed it up as follows:
The jury, through its collective decision making, is an excellent fact finder; due to its representative character, it acts as the conscience of the community; the jury can act as the final bulwark against oppressive laws or their enforcement; it provides a means whereby the public increases its knowledge of the criminal justice system and it increases, through the involvement of the public, societal trust in the system as a whole.
Lord Mansfield's rule is guided by three principles. There are three main rationales for the jury secrecy rule.
The first rationale is that “confidentiality promotes candour and the kind of full and frank debate that is essential to this type of collegial decision making. While searching for unanimity, jurors should be free to explore out loud all avenues of reasoning without fear of exposure to public ridicule, contempt or hatred”.
The second rationale is “the need to ensure finality of the verdict. Describing the verdict as the product of a dynamic process, the court emphasized the need to protect the solemnity of the verdict, as the product of the unanimous consensus which, when formally announced, carries the finality and authority of a legal pronouncement”.
Similarly, the rule also seeks to ensure that the “deliberations remain untainted by contact with information or individuals from outside the jury”.
The third rationale is “the need to protect jurors from harassment, censure and reprisals...This in turn is dependent, at the very minimum, on a system that ensures the safety of jurors, their sense of security, as well as their privacy”.
Allowing a juror to consult a mental or physical health professional is not likely to violate any of these principles. This was also the view expressed by Vanessa MacDonnell of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers' Association while testifying before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2018. We have been discussing this for four years. She specifically said: “For many of the concerns that animate the juror secrecy rule, such as the desire for decisions to be final, the desire to preserve the integrity of the deliberation process, and preventing jurors from being subsequently harassed, none of those concerns are really at play if you create a narrow exception”. That argument is even stronger should the therapy take place after the trial has ended.
Bearing in mind the importance of helping jurors, the strongest argument in favour of relaxing the jury secrecy rule is the fact that physical and mental health care professionals are members of professional associations and are bound by the professional confidentiality obligations set out in their association's codes of conduct.
Quebec's Professional Code, chapter C‑26, sets out strict guidelines for professionals who are likely to come in contact with personal and confidential information. Division III of this legislation reserves the titles of certain professions for registered members of the relevant professional order who have a valid permit. This is the case for social workers, psychologists, human resource advisers and psychoeducators.
Section 60.4 of that legislation states that every professional must preserve the secrecy of all confidential information except in certain circumstances. If a professional is being sued by their client, they can sometimes disclose information that is required for their defence, even if such information is confidential. Furthermore, a professional can disclose confidential information “with the authorization of his client or where so ordered or expressly authorized by law...in order to prevent an act of violence, including a suicide, where he has reasonable cause to believe that there is a serious risk of death or serious bodily injury threatening a person or an identifiable group of persons and where the nature of the threat generates a sense of urgency”.
In all of these scenarios, the professional can disclose only information that is relevant to the situation at hand.
It would be surprising if highly specific details of witness testimony or court proceedings had to be shared in the case of any of these exceptions. The legislation specifically states that the “professional must furnish and at all times maintain security to cover any liability he may incur because of any fault committed in the practice of his profession”.
Additional privacy protections are also included, namely the fact that the “professional must respect the right of his client to cause to be corrected any information that is inaccurate, incomplete or ambiguous with regard to the purpose for which it was collected, contained in a document concerning him in any record established in his respect. He must also respect the right of his client to cause to be deleted any information that is outdated or not justified by the object of the record, or to prepare written comments and file them in the record”.
There are similar codes of conduct in the other Canadian provinces, including Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick. There is also a Canadian code of ethics that takes into account the provinces' legislation and regulations.
Let us talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. There have been countless media reports about jurors developing PTSD after sitting through gruesome trials. The case of young Victoria Stafford is one example.
In conclusion, I am well aware that the trauma jurors go through can lead to PTSD. Jurors themselves have said the horrific cases they heard left them scarred. There is also the case of Mark Farrant, who was a juror on a murder trial involving a young woman who had been severely burned.
As a student at the CEGEP de Jonquière in 2011, I researched PTSD in the armed forces. The consequences can take a toll on family members, in the form of alcoholism, violence or mental health problems. We need to realize that and take action as a society.