Toronto

Jurors from traumatic trials call for national counselling program

Jurors from about a dozen of the country's most horrific trials have added their voices to the call for a national program of support for people who are traumatized after serving on a jury.

Jurors from Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan wrote letters calling for federal trauma support program

Jurors from across the country have written letters to the federal justice minister asking that jurors be included on proposed post-traumatic stress disorder legislation. (Pam Davies)

Jurors from about a dozen of the country's most horrific trials have added their voices to the call for a national program of support for people who are traumatized after serving on a jury.

"You can't be asking people to do something like this and then just send them on their way and say 'Thanks, but now you're on your own,'" said Tina Daenzer, a juror on the Paul Bernardo murder trial.

She's also one of 12 former jurors from Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan who wrote letters to the Federal Justice Minister calling for a national program to support jurors who suffer trauma.

Tina Daenzer served on the first-degree murder trial of Paul Bernardo. She was surprised to learn trauma counselling for jurors on traumatic trials wasn't standard across the country. (Tina Daenzer)

In 1995, Bernardo was convicted of the rape and murder of teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.

​Daenzer said she felt awful after watching videos of the girls being repeatedly tortured at trial.

"I didn't realize how bad it would be," she said. "Every day I would go home after watching the videos [and] I would be numb. It was like I was in a drug-enhanced daze."

The judge who presided over the Bernardo trial, ordered the jurors be provided counselling immediately after the proceedings for as long as each juror needed it, Daenzer recounted.

Years later, she found out that wasn't the norm.

"I was actually shocked," she said. "I thought it was a court-provided service for everyone that had been through, not every trial, but a traumatic trial that would affect people's mental health," she said.

She said that she wants any Canadian juror who feels they need counselling to be able to access it through public funding. 

Adding jurors to the agenda

Mark Farrant is spearheading the campaign.

Last year, the former juror told CBC Toronto about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving on a first degree murder trial in 2014. 

Mark Farrant says some jurors supported his initiative, but couldn't write letters because they found the process revisited the trauma they experienced. (Sue Reid/CBC)

On the heels of those reports last January about juror trauma, the Ontario government started a program to provide a hotline to help anyone who served on a jury and needs counselling.

Farrant has now set his sights on putting post-trial support for jury members on the national agenda and collecting the letters is the first step.

"Their stories are going to continue to drive this issue. It's important for the justice minister federally to hear those voices," said Farrant. "Jurors are governed by the criminal code and the criminal code resides within her ministry and for her to say it's really a provincial issue is not appropriate." 

He said some provinces have no juror supports such as Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. If the federal government sets up a national framework, the provinces would have to meet those requirements, he reasoned.

'This has to happen'

Patrick Fleming served as foreman on the Toronto-area jury that deliberated Jennifer Pan's murder trial. In 2014, Pan was found guilty of both first-degree murder and attempted murder in a phoney home invasion that targeted her parents because they disapproved of her boyfriend.

Fleming said he knew the trial would take a toll on him from its first day, when the Crown played the tape of the 911 phone call Pan placed from her Markham home in 2010.

"You can watch this stuff on TV all you want, but when you're looking at the accused and you're listening to what's going on in the background, you know that somebody's life was just taken," Fleming said.

"I knew it was going to be difficult [but] I don't think I realized at the time just how difficult it was going to be."

Jennifer Pan was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 25 years after she was convicted of first-degree murder in her mother's death and the attempted murder of her father. (Alex Tavshunsky/CBC)

This is the first time Fleming has spoken with the media about his experience. He said he became more isolated as Pan's trial went on, pulling away from his family in an effort to deal with his feelings on his own.

Three years after the jury returned its guilty verdict, Fleming said he still thinks about the trial every day. People in the street can remind him of the accused.

"I thought if I pulled into my driveway and came home after the trial that it would all go away," Fleming told CBC Toronto. "But my home wasn't my home anymore."

He sought help through a program at his workplace because no such support existed for jurors at the time. And he said he's joining the call for a national support program so that others doing their civic duty will be able to access help, no matter what province they live in.

"Anyone that's gone through this will fully agree that this has to happen," he said.

PTSD legislation

Farrant has also called for the federal post-traumatic stress disorder legislation, Bill C-211, to be amended to include people who serve on juries.

At the moment, the bill aims to develop a national framework around PTSD for first responders, veterans and the military.

"PTSD is the extreme," Farrant said, of jurors experiences. "It's not PTSD that most jurors are dealing with. It's being able to talk to somebody after what they've seen. It's re-entering their lives. It's being able to get over some of the guilt that they're feeling."

Farrant will present copies of the letters he's gathered from other jurors to justice officials in Ottawa later this month.

About the Author

Michelle Cheung

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michelle Cheung has been around the block a few times having worked as a journalist in Canada and internationally for more than 25 years. She has embraced telling digital, radio and TV stories that affect people in Toronto, the city where she grew up. Michelle's favourite way to explore the city is on her bike. You can reach her at michelle.cheung@cbc.ca