Canadian Jurors Need Mental Health Support.

AuthorCooper, Michael
PositionFeature: Juries in Canada

Former juror Mark Farrant has observed that jury service is the last mandatory form of service since the abolition of military subscription. Each year thousands of Canadians are called to perform this last mandatory form of civic duty.

Much is asked of jurors. To sit on a jury means taking time off from work, and having one's family and social life disrupted, all for practically no remuneration. Jurors are expected to take in all of the evidence, no matter how gruesome, and ultimately deliberate on the fate of the accused. To be a juror is to be entrusted with significant responsibility. Indeed, there are few matters weightier than potentially deciding whether to send an accused to jail for the rest of his or her life. With significant responsibility comes significant stress for many jurors, including being exposed to disturbing evidence. Tina Daenzer, who served on the Paul Bernardo jury said: "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." While Canadians are very familiar with high-profile trials like Bernardo's, the fact is that every day across Canada jurors are exposed to horrific evidence in cases involving horrific crimes.

Despite this, jurors are more or less expected to get on with their lives as though nothing happened following the conclusion of a trial. Many former jurors are able to more or less return to life as they knew it before jury service. However, others understandably are not.

Recently, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, of which I am a member, undertook the first Canadian Parliamentary study on juror supports. During our study, we heard from several former jurors who suffered from stress, anxiety and even PTSD arising from their jury service. These men and women courageously told the Committee, some for the first time publicly, about how their lives have been forever changed. For example, Daenzeris still affected by the Bernardo trial more than two decades later.

Despite all the sacrifices that jurors make, they have been the last people in the courtroom to be provided with mental health supports. This is the case even though they are often put at great risk. Judges, lawyers, and court staff all get support. Only recently have some provincial governments established juror mental health support programs. These programs are a patchwork across Canada with...

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