Quebec Sen. Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu is hoping a bill he tabled in the Senate will help jurors access mental health support and that this time it will become law before another election.
Bill S-206 would amend Section 649 of the Criminal Code to allow jurors to discuss aspects of jury deliberations following the trial with a licensed health-care professional. Currently, talking to anyone about any information relating to such jury discussions is illegal under what is often referred to as the “jury secrecy” law.
“When we ask citizens to be (on) a jury, we don’t ask them to be a victim,” Boisvenu said during a press conference Thursday.
He said it was the fourth time the bill had been introduced and he and Sen. Lucie Moncion had made it their “mission” to get the bill passed.
In October 2018, Conservative MP Michael Cooper — who joined Boisvenu Wednesday — introduced his own private member’s bill, C-417, that also would have changed the Criminal Code to help jurors get support. That bill passed through the House of Commons with bipartisan support, but it stalled in the Senate in April 2019. When the 43rd general election was called later that year, the bill died on the order paper, preventing it from becoming law.
Two months after that election, Boisvenu introduced his own bill, S-207. At the time, Cooper told Global News he had reached out to the senator to bring the bill to the chamber. He said the upper house did not have “a lot on its plate” and it would hopefully make it back to the House of Commons quickly.
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The bill did pass its first reading in the chamber, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was not able to reach the House before the 2021 federal election.
Cooper said Thursday he was confident the bill would pass this time.
“It’s time to simply get it done,” he said. “Jurors play an integral role in the administration of justice in Canada, often at a considerable personal cost. We owe it to them to see the speedy pass.”
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Mark Farrant, a former juror and chief executive officer of the Canadian Juries Commission, joined Boisvenu on Thursday, alongside Moncion and Tina Daenzer, a former juror in the Paul Bernardo murder trial.
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He said he’s appreciated the support the politicians have shown for their continued push to get this bill passed.
“The bill has been a victim of circumstance, it has not been voted down, it has just never had its opportunity to be heard and to pass,” said Farrant, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following his time as a juror in a murder trial.
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Farrant and Daenzer have been advocating for better support for jurors following their own experiences at jury duty. They also serve as executive members of the Canadian Juries Commission.
Daenzer herself was diagnosed with PTSD after being a juror on the Bernardo murder trial.
“While it’s true a small percentage of jurors have suffered extensive mental health trauma like myself due to graphic evidence, one of the top sources of stress of jurors is actually related to the verdict and deliberation process,” she said. “So for many, once the trial ends, the agony begins. Feelings of guilt, shame, regret often set in, feelings you’re told not to talk about with anyone.”
Jurors with PTSD advocate for greater mental health support during, after trials
Moncion told reporters Thursday that she and Boisvenu would work to expedite the bill and they have an “optimistic goal” to have the bill passed by June 2022. The bill saw its first reading in the Senate on Wednesday.
“The fact that the pandemic hit, we had constraints on the bills that could be studied and this is why the opportunity for this bill is now because we are now back in person,” she said.
Daenzer added she was confident the change to the Criminal Code would happen.
“Let’s be honest, sometimes the wheels of justice move slowly, but the wheel hasn’t fallen off and we’re going to keep it on the track this time.”
The bill would come into effect 90 days after it receives royal assent, should it be passed by both chambers, according to the text of the bill.
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