THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan
OTTAWA — Former jurors delivered an emotional plea Wednesday for the federal government to create national supports for Canadians who perform jury duty.
Mark Farrant, who said he developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving on a jury in 2014, characterized the experience as a descent into a dark hole from which he was never able to completely escape.
"I'm not the same person going out of that trial as I was going in," he said at a press conference in Ottawa. "I had a lot of dark moments. I withdrew from friends, I withdrew from life. And I'm still there today."
Jurors deliver an immense public service, Farrant said, adding support must be provided to ensure other Canadians do not go through the same amount of suffering that he did.
"Today is my son's third birthday," he said, holding back tears.
"I am here today because this issue is that important. And I'm doing it for him and I am doing it for my kids and my family and for many, many Canadian families."
Patrick Fleming, a former jury foreman, agreed that Canadians should not be hurt as a result of carrying out civic duties.
"We feel like the government should stand behind us and I really think that they should help," he said. "I think it is a federal responsibility."
NDP House leader Murray Rankin said Wednesday his party is calling for the creation of a national standard of support for Canadians serving on juries.
Serving as a juror can be very stressful and traumatizing, Rankin said, noting the federal government needs to stand behind Canadians who are called on to do this work.
Administration of justice and jury legislation happens at the provincial level, Rankin noted, but he pointed to a victim bill of rights as an example of legislation brought in at the federal level under the previous Conservative government.
Rankin said juror assistance could be provided through a funding program or by amending the Criminal Code.
Section 627 of the code allows judges to permit technical support or other assistance to a juror with a physical disability, he said.
"How about (a new) Section 628 that might say, 'The judge may provide jurors with counselling or other mental health support services as the judge deems appropriate?'" Rankin said.
"Why wouldn't that fit perfectly into a Criminal Code?"
Farrant said he met this week in Ottawa with MPs including Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and officials from the Justice Department.
"The train is moving in the right direction," he said.
Julie Dabrusin, the Liberal MP for Farrant's riding of Toronto-Danforth, said the federal government can play a role in discussions with provincial and territorial counterparts on how to move forward with programs like the one adopted in Ontario.
In January, that province introduced a new program for jurors who can get counselling in person, over the phone, by teleconference or over email.
Wilson-Raybould's office has yet to comment on the request for federal action.