Former juror suffering from PTSD calls for national support standard
Federal government has clear role to play in ensuring jurors get help for trauma, says Mark Farrant
After a grisly murder trial left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), former juror Mark Farrant made it his mission to ensure other jurors receive the help they need.
Farrant is bringing his 12 Angry Letters campaign to Ottawa this week, meeting with members of Parliament and officials from the Department of Justice.
The campaign brings together former jurors who have struggled with mental health issues as a result of performing their civic duty, including in some of the country's most notorious murder trials.
Together, they are pressing the federal government for a national standard on post-trial mental health supports for jurors.
'I'm not the same person'
Farrant said he had no idea what to expect when he first took his seat in the jury box more than three years ago.
"I am not the same person now than I was before the trial," Farrant told the host of CBC's Power & Politics Rosemary Barton.
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Farrant served five months in the 2014 jury trial of Farshad Badakhshan, a Toronto man who was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his 23-year-old girlfriend.
It was during the trial that Farrant first realized how troubled he was by the gruesome evidence he was forced to witness.
"I chalked it up to stress and anxiety, and figured it was just going to go away," Farrant said. "I really thought, 'It's my burden and it's my responsibility to get over this in my own due course.'"
Months after the trial ended, Farrant was struggling to regain a sense of normalcy. It was only after a family member intervened that he sought help and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
Three years on, he says he still avoids crowds and social gatherings, and struggles daily to manage his stress and anxiety.
Other signs of the trauma he endures are more disturbing still.
"I have an aversion to meat, where I didn't before, and you can imagine where that came from," Farrant said.
Call for help met with 'dull silence'
Farrant first encountered what he sees as a yawning gap in Canada's mental health and justice systems when he called the courthouse, hoping to be referred to counselling.
"There was really a dull silence at the end of the phone," Farrant recalls. "Finally, they said: 'We really don't have anything for you.'"
Left at the mercy of the health care system, Farrant faced a year-long wait to see a psychiatrist. He was given a list of therapists and instructed to call them on his own.
"I kind of thought, 'I shouldn't be doing this. Why am I doing this?'" Farrant said.
National patchwork of post-trial supports
Earlier this year, Farrant successfully lobbied the Ontario government to launch a juror support program. The program offers up to eight hours of free counselling to anyone who has served on a jury trial in the province.
While Farrant sees Ontario's program as a step forward, he worries about the patchwork of supports facing jurors elsewhere across Canada.
"There are some jurors who are looking over the fence and saying, 'We have nothing,'" Farrant said.
A spokesperson for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has previously said that juror supports are a matter of provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
May 29, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/12angryletters?src=hash">#12angryletters</a> to Ottawa from 12 brave jurors to improve <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/mentalhealth?src=hash">#mentalhealth</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/endthestigma?src=hash">#endthestigma</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PTSD?src=hash">#PTSD</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Trauma?src=hash">#Trauma</a>. We do this because we care! <a href="https://t.co/SydWjf64VL">pic.twitter.com/SydWjf64VL</a>—@cdnjuryhelp
Farrant has found an ally in NDP House Leader Murray Rankin, who rejects the government's argument with regard to jurisdiction.
"I think it's nonsense," Rankin said, drawing a comparison to the government's physician-assisted dying bill which required an amendment to the Criminal Code.
"Health is a provincial jurisdiction, but nevertheless, we managed to find a way for the federal government to take leadership on this," he said. "Tell me why we couldn't add a simple section to the Criminal Code that says where jurors are affected in this fashion, the judge will have the discretion to suggest services be made available."
Jurors overlooked in PTSD framework
A Conservative private member's bill making its way through the House of Commons might have provided an opportunity to address the mental health needs of former jurors, Farrant said.
Aiming to develop a national framework on PTSD, Bill C-211 would standardize terminology, diagnosis and treatment options. But while the bill names first responders, firefighters, military personnel, corrections officers and members of the RCMP, jurors are not included.
The bill's sponsor, B.C. Conservative MP Todd Doherty, has said he is "ashamed" he didn't think to include jurors when drafting the bill.
"I think jurors are — in some ways — the most vulnerable, because they don't have any training," Farrant said. "It's not a vocation. It's a civic duty. It's the last form of conscription really left in this country."
I'm getting better, and I'm working at it. It's a long road.- Mark Farrant, juror mental health advocate
Rankin believes there's a possibility Bill C-211 could be interpreted broadly enough to apply to jurors affected by PTSD, but he says the NDP is prepared to go further.
"I think it's a real simple section to add to the Criminal Code, so we're going to push the government to put it into one of their criminal law amendments," Rankin said.
Heartened by the support he has received from MPs and representatives in provincial ministries, Farrant said he will press on with his efforts to have the federal government play a role in meeting the mental health needs of jurors.
Meanwhile, he continues to work to manage his own PTSD: a lasting and painful reminder of his time in the jury box.
"I'm not the same. I'm getting better," Farrant said. "It's a long road."