An Ontario woman who sought to be recognized as a victim of crime after developing post-traumatic stress disorder from serving as a juror in a horrific murder trial has reached a settlement in her legal fight with the province.
The resolution came hours before the potentially precedent-setting case was to go before the Court of Appeal for Ontario on Tuesday.
The woman, who cannot be identified, was a juror in the trial of Michael Rafferty, who was convicted in 2012 of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering eight-year-old Victoria Stafford, of Woodstock, Ont.
The 57-year-old had argued she suffered psychological injury as a result of coming “face to face” with Rafferty’s horrific crimes and was seeking compensation as a victim of crime.
But a settlement was reached in the case late Monday, her lawyers said.
“There has been a satisfactory resolution of the issues in the appeal,” said Barbara Legate, one of the lawyers representing the woman. “The Ministry of the Attorney General has agreed to provide her with some financial assistance towards the expenses she has borne in obtaining treatment following the trial.”
The development in the case came after Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced on Monday that by January next year, the provincial government would be offering free counselling to all jurors who need it.
The woman’s lawyer said her client “applauds” the steps taken by Naqvi to ensure future jurors receive assistance.
The woman – a mother of two – had alleged that immediately after Rafferty’s trial she began to experience “significant impairments” in concentration and short-term memory, depression, anxiety – particularly about the safety of her children – and had vivid flashbacks of evidence from the trial, her lawyers had argued in court documents.
She took time off work, went on long-term disability and claimed she was formally diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety disorder as a result of being exposed to Rafferty’s crimes, they said.
The woman first sought compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board – a tribunal that assesses financial compensation for victims and family of deceased victims of violent crimes in Ontario – but her application was dismissed. She then appealed to the Divisional Court, which also dismissed her case.
She then turned to the Appeal Court, where her lawyers were to argue that her situation was a “test case” which examines what it means to be a victim, as defined by the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act.
They argued that unlike those who choose to work in the criminal justice system, jurors are “effectively ordered” to participate in it and have evidence of violent crime “imposed upon them.”
But the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board argued the woman was not a victim under the act and did not meet all legal criteria for a claim of mental or nervous shock.
It argued in court documents that the woman’s interpretation of “victim” under the act would allow for “an indefinite expansion” of those who may claim compensation as victims, potentially including court staff, lawyers and individuals that watch news that depict a crime of violence.