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Bill to support jurors with PTSD dies in the Senate

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-06-21 Kathleen Harris
A bill that would give former jurors suffering with PTSD the legal right to discuss their trial deliberations with a medical practitioner has died in the Senate. © CBC A bill that would give former jurors suffering with PTSD the legal right to discuss their trial deliberations with a medical practitioner has died in the Senate.

Former jurors plan to pressure political parties to revive a bill that would allow them to get adequate mental health treatment after performing their civic duty in horrific murder trials and other cases.

Bill C-417, which would have amended a section of the Criminal Code that prohibits jurors from speaking about jury deliberations for life, did not clear the Senate before the end of the parliamentary session.

The bill would have made an exception to the so-called "jury secrecy rule" to allow jurors to discuss details of jury deliberations with a mental health professional bound to confidentiality.

Mark Farrant, a former murder trial juror who championed the initiative, said he's frustrated by the Senate's failure to swiftly pass the bill, which had unanimous support in the House of Commons. He and other jurors plan to keep up pressure on political parties, and to urge whichever party wins the October election to re-introduce the bill.

a man wearing glasses: Mark Farrant, who suffered from PTSD after serving as the jury foreman in a murder trial, said he's disappointed a jury support bill did not pass before the end of the parliamentary session. © CBC Mark Farrant, who suffered from PTSD after serving as the jury foreman in a murder trial, said he's disappointed a jury support bill did not pass before the end of the parliamentary session.

"There isn't a more impressive duty than jury duty as it pertains to our citizens," he said. "We don't conscript for the military, but we conscript for jury duty, so everyone understands the need for this."

© Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Farrant was the jury foreman during the 2014 Toronto trial of Farshad Badakhshan, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend Carina Petrache. The victim, a Ryerson University student, was stabbed multiple times before her body was burned in a fire.

With the bill's demise, it remains illegal for Farrant or any other juror in Canada to have an open conversation with a medical practitioner about the effects of trial deliberations on their mental health.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he strongly supported the bill, which flowed from one of the many recommendations from the Commons justice committee that he chairs.

"Mental health is an area where we need to do better and Bill C-417 was a very simple fix that would have made life better for some jurors suffering from mental health issues," he said.

Housefather said he will continue to work with colleagues from all parties to ensure it becomes law in the next Parliament.

The bill, which was sponsored by Conservative MP Michael Cooper and NDP MP Murray Rankin, cleared the House of Commons and moved to the Senate on April 30.

Cooper said he's disappointed with the way the bill died.

"This is a minor amendment to the Criminal Code that could have a major impact on former jurors," he said. "This is common-sense legislation that has all-party support."

When he introduced the bill last November, Cooper said one of the biggest impediments preventing jurors from getting the help they need is the jury secrecy rule, and that the deliberation process is one of the most stressful aspects of jury service.

"After all, it is a time when jurors are sequestered with 11 other strangers, sometimes for hours, days or weeks, where they have to go through the evidence methodically, sometimes very disturbing and gruesome evidence, and ultimately decide the fate of an individual," Cooper said at the time.

"In the most serious of cases, that fate may be to put someone away for the rest of his or her life."

Rankin called it a "non-partisan issue" and a "no-brainer."

He called it "deeply troubling" that an unelected group of senators could thwart the unanimous will of elected MPs.

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