Toronto man hopeful that federal government will fund mental health support for jurors

A Toronto man who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving on a murder trial jury is hoping that the federal government will act on a recommendation to help Canadians traumatized by jury duty.

Mark Farrant says he's 'very encouraged' by finance committee recommendation

Mark Farrant, 47, is pleased that the federal finance committee has recommended that the federal government provide $20 million over 10 years in funding to the Canadian Juries Commission to support the mental health of jurors. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

A Toronto man who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving on a murder trial jury is hoping that the federal government will act on a recommendation to help people traumatized by jury duty.

Mark Farrant, 47, says the recommendation, made by the House of Commons standing committee on finance in a February report, is a significant development. It calls on the federal government to provide $20 million in funding over 10 years to the Canadian Juries Commission to support juror mental health. 

Farrant said the recommendation recognizes that serving on a jury can have an impact on the well-being of individual jurors and that those jurors may need emotional support following their service.

"We're very encouraged and very grateful that the committee understood the importance of the issue and have made that recommendation to the finance ministry," Farrant told CBC Toronto on Saturday.

"Jurors perform an enormous service to the public. It's the last mandatory civic duty left in Canada. Jurors have been overlooked for decades in terms of their mental health and the impact of their service to their community. The jury system has also neglected for many decades and this is an investment in the justice system and an investment in Canadians."

Jurors are an integral part of the Canadian justice system and the recommendation recognizes that important role, Farrant added.

The recommendation now goes to the federal finance ministry, and if accepted, the funding will be included in the next federal budget.

Farrant said the Canadian Juries Commission, a national non-profit organization that he founded last year in Toronto, would use the money to fund programs and services that are currently in development that would help jurors. He said the commission believes that $20 million over 10 years is an appropriate amount. 

Former juror calls $20M 'a very sensible figure'

"We think that the number is very much in line with delivering a broad mandate of services and improvements to jury duty across a number of dimensions. It's a very sensible figure," he said.

The commission, which has a nine-member board of directors, has a mandate to support and represent Canadians serving on jury duty. The commission would provide support in court and after trials. Its mandate includes work with diverse communities to improve representation on juries.

An example of a program that could be funded by the federal government is a national peer system program in which jurors talk to other jurors after traumatic trials to help them ease back into the workplace and their lives. The program has been designed with the help of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

"We're very honoured and optimistic. Of course, this is a recommendation. It's not a guarantee of funding. But we are very, very hopeful," he said.

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

Farrant was also the driving force behind proposed legislation, Bill C-417, that would have improved mental health support for traumatized jury members. The private member's bill, which would have amended Section 649 of the Criminal Code, died in the Senate in June 2019.