Toronto

25 years after Bernardo verdict, jurors rally for increased pay and supports

The Canadian Juries Commission is demanding a series of reforms around jury duty, including increased mental health supports, reimbursement for travel, child care and parking costs, as well as upping daily compensation for jurors to $120 a day.

Juror who served on trial says payment is no better now than it was in 1995

Tina Daenzer is the COO and CFO of the Canadian Juries Commission, which is a not-for-profit group attempting to improve conditions for jurors in Canada. (CBC)

Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, Tina Daenzer was sitting in a downtown Toronto courtroom as juror number one when Paul Bernardo was found guilty of murdering two Ontario teens.

Though decades have passed, the experience still clearly weighs on her. Through tears outside the University Avenue courthouse, Daenzer made a plea for people to remember Bernardo's victims and their families — and to increase support for jurors across Canada who endure horrific details at criminal trials.

"I think of them every day over the last 25 years," she said about Bernardo's victims during a news conference, while trying to keep her composure.

"At the heart of the Crown's case in 1995 were the graphic and brutal videos that greatly affected everyone in the courtroom, including myself."

Daenzer is the COO and CFO of the Canadian Juries Commission (CJC), which is a not-for-profit group attempting to improve conditions for jurors in Canada.

The group is now demanding a series of reforms around jury duty, including increased mental health supports, reimbursement for travel, child care and parking costs, as well as upping daily compensation for jurors to $120 a day.

Compensation is especially important, considering Daenzer says payment for jurors in the province is the same now as it was back in 1995: nothing for the first 10 days of a trial, $40 a day from days 11 to 49, and $100 from day 50 onward.

In Ontario, employers are required to give people time off for jury duty — but the law does not require employers to pay an employee during that time.

Pushing for income support

That means that a wide swath of people, like those working minimum wage jobs or in the gig economy, likely won't be able to serve as jurors, considering the compensation they'd receive.

"The face of a jury will never change if the only people you see on juries are people who work for large corporations who continue to pay them, or senior citizens who might have the time and are getting a pension," Daenzer said.

"We can no longer think of jury pay as an honorarium. It must be seen as income support, as a means to encourage participation in our justice system. Jury duty should not be available only to those who can afford it. That is not our democracy," echoed Mark Farrant, CEO of the CJC.

But in a statement, Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Brian Gray said that from the province's perspective, jury fees are an honorarium, not a payment.

"However, the ministry recognizes that long trials can be a challenge for some individuals," he said. "Anyone who is summoned to jury duty but has concerns about jury service causing hardship, including financial hardship, may contact their local court office to request to be excused from service on that basis."

Gray also said that free counselling sessions are offered to jurors under Ontario's juror support program.

Federal officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The CJC also noted that many of its requests were included in a 2018 report from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which called on the federal government to work in collaboration with provinces and territories to improve jurors' experience with the justice system.

Jury compensation differs from province to province across Canada. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

That report contained 11 recommendations, including encouraging provinces and territories to offer psychological support programs for jurors after trials and a daily allowance of at least $120 for the duration of legal proceedings.

Daenzer said none of those recommendations have been adopted.

"Nothing from 1995 has changed for jurors across Canada," she said.

Courts across the province shut their doors earlier this year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some in-person proceedings have resumed.

With many people facing financial hardships due to the pandemic, properly compensating jurors is now more important than ever, Farrant said.

"Just as we have made investments in public health amid this pandemic, we must make equal investments in jury duty, which is long overdue."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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