Politics

Ex-juror suffering from PTSD applauds bill to allow discussion with mental health services

A Toronto man diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving on the jury for a murder trial is praising a new private member's bill that could help jurors deal with the fallout from listening to disturbing testimony and viewing horrific photos.

Private member's amendment would ease Criminal Code ban

Section 649 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for a juror to disclose 'any information relating to the proceedings of the jury when it was absent from the courtroom that was not subsequently disclosed in open court.' (CBC)

A Toronto man diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving on the jury for a murder trial is praising a new private member's bill that could help jurors deal with the fallout from listening to disturbing testimony and viewing horrific crime scene photos.

This week Conservative MP Michael Cooper introduced a bill that would amend the Criminal Code to allow jurors to discuss aspects of trial deliberation with a medical clinician. The bill would amend Section 649, which prohibits jurors from disclosing their deliberations. 

It's a roadblock Mark Farrant says he ran into after serving as the jury foreman during the trial of 31-year-old Farshad Badakhshan.

In April 2014, Badakhshan was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend. Four years earlier, Badakhshan​ had slit her throat and stabbed her repeatedly before setting their rooming house in Toronto's Annex area on fire.

Farrant said when he first sought help he was told "over and over" that he wasn't legally allowed to talk about deliberations. A statement of claim he filed to in Ontario Superior Court says he was later diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression following the trial.

"For the most part Canadians go through the jury duty unscathed, but we know many have not, especially on difficult and lengthy trials," he told CBC's The House.

Ex-jury foreman Mark Farrant says he developed PTSD after serving as a juror in a murder trial, but found Ontario did not offer services to help him. (CBC)

"It allows the juror to talk about trial experiences openly with a licensed medical practitioner — a psychiatrist, psychologist whoever —  ​without fear that they are breaking the law."

'Last form of mandatory civic action'

Cooper says the bill just cracks the Criminal Code open slightly, and only to medical professionals, who already have a handle on the importance of confidentiality.

"It provides a narrow exception to the jury secrecy rules so that after a trial a juror who is seeking mental health treatment could disclose what took place during the course of jury deliberations," he said.

"It's a step in the right direction... No one should be unable to get mental health treatment for simply doing their civic duty."

The Criminal Code change was endorsed by the all-party justice committee after it studied the impact of jury duty on mental health to determine what specialized services, funding and new policies could be required. Their report also recommended jury members be paid at least $120 a day and be offered comprehensive psychological support, much of which falls to the provinces. 

Until this private member's bill — a parliamentary initiative that seldom gets passed — nothing much has been done to help jurors, says Farrant, who earlier this year launched a lawsuit against the Ontario and federal governments for $100,000 in compensation.

"I'm hoping that members will look at the bill for what it is and not political or partisan lines. That this is really a bill designed to help Canadians who are participating in really what is the last form of mandatory civic action, which is being a member of a jury," he said.

"We don't conscript people for the military anymore but we do conscript people to do that duty as a juror."

After Farrant came forward with his story, the Ontario government introduced free counselling for jurors.

About the Author

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked at CBC in Nova Scotia. She can be reached at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca or @cattunneyCBC.