Ontario to offer free counselling for traumatized jurors

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced the Juror Support Program on Tuesday afternoon, offering support to jurors suffering PTSD after trials end.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi with ex-juror Mark Farrant (L), who told CBC Toronto about his struggle with PTSD and seeking counsel last year. Naqvi thanked Farrant for bringing the story to his attention. (Mahnoor Yawar/CBC News)

Ontario will provide free access to counselling for jurors who experience PTSD after particularly graphic trials and coroner inquests.

The Juror Support Program was launched Tuesday afternoon by Attorney General Yasir Naqvi at the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton.

"Serving on a jury is a fundamental civic responsibility that we all share," said Naqvi. "But serving on a jury is not an easy job by any measure."

Experiences they have during a trial can have real, lasting, traumatic effects that can disrupt their daily lives.- Attorney General Yasir Naqvi

"Sometimes, the evidence and the testimony (jurors) have to consider can be graphic, and can deal with very violent crimes. We know that for some jurors, the experiences they have during a trial can have real, lasting, traumatic effects that can disrupt their daily lives and personal health.

Naqvi said it was important that jurors have access to support after a difficult trial or inquest, and that it should be as easy as picking up the phone and dialling a number.

Free sessions

Jurors who seek the service will be matched with an experienced and qualified counsellor, who will then provide up to 8 free sessions. Naqvi said there is no out-of-pocket expense to the juror, and the program is completely confidential.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announcing the Juror Support Program, offering free counselling services to jurors who suffer PTSD from their trial. (Mahnoor Yawar/CBC News)

All jurors will be offered access to the program should they require it, whether they have served on a civil or criminal trial, or a coroner's inquest.

Naqvi thanked ex-juror Mark Farrant, who spoke to CBC Toronto about his experience in October 2016, for his courage in bringing the issue to his attention.

Farrant was the jury foreman in a first-degree murder trial in which a Toronto man was found guilty of stabbing his girlfriend to death and setting their home on fire. Farrant was diagnosed with PTSD after the trial.

Takes a toll

"I'm extremely grateful that this program is in place," said Farrant, who says he receives counselling to this day.

"First responders and jurors are the bookends of the justice system, and the law is the glue that binds it all together."

"I'm really proud of being a juror. I'm proud of the role that I played in delivering justice that day, but it did take a toll on me and my family, and does still to this day." 

He said many other former jurors across the country had reached out to him after his story aired, and shared their stories with him. Some of them, he said, were struggling to this day in provinces that do not have a program in place.

Farrant said he hoped the program would serve as a springboard for other provinces and the federal justice minister to review existing programs or implement new ones across the country.

Accessing the program

The Juror Support Program will be available to people who have served jury duty, will be accessible by a toll-free number: 1-844-JUROR-ON (1-844-587-6766). When requesting services, Naqvi explained, jurors will need to provide the location of the court where the trial or inquest took place, as well as start and end dates.

Disability accommodation will be provided, and jurors can choose to receive counselling in person, over the phone, by email, or videoconference in English or French.

Ontario did not previously cover assistance for jurors unless specifically ordered by a judge. Naqvi said his ministry recognized that it needed to "do better."

Naqvi said he was confident that the ministry of the attorney general would absorb all costs for the program under its existing budget.

He said there were currently no known statistics on how widespread the needs would be, but an ongoing assessment of the program and its intake would provide more information to the ministry.