Former juror with PTSD wants jury members included in federal bill

An Ontario juror who suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome is hoping that a federal PTSD bill set to be discussed in Ottawa on Thursday will be amended to include people who serve on juries.

Mark Farrant says Bill C-211 should include jurors along with veterans, first responders

Ex-juror Mark Farrant is asking that jurors be included in a new federal bill that looks to establish a consistent national approach to PTSD. (CBC)

A former juror from Ontario, who made headlines last year after telling CBC News about his battle with post-traumatic stress syndrome, is hoping that federal PTSD legislation set to be discussed in Ottawa on Thursday will be amended to include people who serve on juries.

Bill C-211 aims to develop a national framework around PTSD that would standardize terminology, diagnosis and treatment across the country. In its current form, it's aimed at three groups: first responders, veterans, and the military.

Mark Farrant, a vocal advocate for juror mental health since serving on a first-degree murder trial in 2014, says the private member's bill needs to go further.

"If you think about first responders and the jury, they are kind of bookends of the justice system, but there are no services for [the jurors]," he said.

Farrant, who said he was "shattered" by PTSD in the months and years following his time viewing graphic evidence in the courtroom, struggled to find resources and support from the court system and ended up paying for therapy himself.

"It was a pretty awful experience. And I don't want it to happen to somebody else," he said.

Bill's language has potential to be open-ended

As soon as he heard about the bill, Farrant took steps to get in touch with its author, British Columbia Conservative MP Todd Doherty, and share his experience.

"Just hearing my story and sending him some of the articles in the media that have arisen from my experience, he's very receptive to it," he said.

Doherty told CBC Toronto that hearing Farrant's story has prompted him to think more carefully about who is included in his bill.

"I'm ashamed to say that I never considered it, but he's got an incredibly valid point that has to be made," he said.

Conservative member Todd Doherty represents Cariboo-Prince George, B.C. He introduced a private member's bill in January 2016 that aims to create a national framework for dealing with PTSD. (Conservative Party of Canada)

Who's in and who's out?

Doherty said that the use of the term "first responders" was left deliberately vague to make room for adding in different groups down the road.

The conversation around whether that could possibly be stretched to include jurors will have to wait until the bill goes to committee, he said.

Jurors may be just the beginning of that conversation. The Conservative MP for Barrie-Innisfil, John Brassard, who seconded the bill, told CBC Toronto he's received phone calls from doctors and nurses also anxious to be included. 

A similar issue came up in Ontario last April, when the province passed the Supporting Ontario's First Responders Act.

The law, which makes it easier to get treatment for PTSD, applies to a group of first-response professions that includes paramedics, some correctional workers, and emergency response teams.

It drew criticism for excluding nurses and specific corrections workers such as bailiffs and parole officers.

'So necessary, so important'

Despite no guarantee that jurors might make their way into Bill C-211, Farrant is hopeful.

He called the bill, along with the prospect of a national conversation about PTSD, "so necessary and so important."

"This puts a laser focus on mental health as a whole. This really should be a springboard for us to take a really good look at how we address mental health as a whole across the country," said Farrant.    

He's coming off a recent advocacy win. At the end of January, Ontario's Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced the details of a support program for jurors that came about after Farrant went public with his experience in a CBC Toronto exclusive.

The newly-minted program provides free, confidential counselling to jurors who feel they need it following a trial or coroner's inquest.