Jurors with PTSD advocate for greater mental health support during, after trials

Click to play video: 'Jurors with PTSD push for better mental health support during, after trials'
Jurors with PTSD push for better mental health support during, after trials
WATCH: Jurors diagnosed with PTSD call for more support during, after trials – Jun 23, 2019

When Tina Daenzer was selected to be on the trial jury of Paul Bernardo, the judge cautioned those on the panel that the evidence would be graphic, but she felt she could handle the content.

Daenzer never expected she would later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jurors in the trial were shown various pieces of evidence, including multiple videos of sexual assaults involving the victims of Bernardo — who was found guilty of nine offences, including kidnapping, rape and murder — and convicted killer Karla Homolka.

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Exposure to that material affected Daenzer both physically and emotionally.

“I would be agitated, I would be upset,” she said in an interview with Global News. “There was one point in the trial where the judge had to call for a recess. My heart was palpitating. I had to call my doctor.”

She says her doctor believed the reaction was due to anxiety, but Daenzer had to continue on as the trial was still in progress.

After it was over, she was able to get support because the trial judge had requested psychological help for each juror for as long as they needed it.

Click to play video: 'Board denies parole for Bernardo'
Board denies parole for Bernardo

But years later, Daenzer learned the help she had received was rare.

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“I just thought that was the norm because that’s what we were offered,” she said.

More than 20 years ago, help for jurors was not widely available in Canada. The Bernardo trial was a rare case, and supports have only started to be put in place within the past five years.

Post-trial anxiety not uncommon

Dr. Katy Kamkar with the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction says the symptoms Daenzer experienced are not unusual.

She told Global News that the evidence witnessed and the details jurors are told can result in difficulties during or after the trial.

“People who provide jury duty can be exposed to heightened stress or psychological distress or emotional difficulties,” she said.

These can include a depressed mood, anxiety, feelings of anger and mood irritability. Other factors such as jury deliberations can also bring about added stress.

“All those, together, can increase the risk for psychological disorders,” Kamkar said.

Help for jurors difficult to find

In 2014, Mark Farrant served on the second-degree murder trial of Farshad Badakhshan in Ontario. Badakhshan was eventually found guilty.

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During the trial and the months to follow, Farrant says the person he once was “evaporated.”

“I didn’t want to communicate with people. I didn’t want to socialize,” he said. “I kept my kids very close to me. I wasn’t happy seeing them interacting with other kids. I had a lot of fear, and it just continued to build.”

He said another impact of the trial was that he became unable to be in the same room as his spouse, and Farrant began to keep a “defensive vigil” at the foot of his children’s doors. He says he was terrified something would happen to his children.

Eventually, Farrant’s spouse and family told him he should seek help, but when he started looking, Farrant faced roadblocks.

He turned to the courts as a first resource but says they told him there were no services available as a judge had not issued any. Farrant also hit dead ends with local victim services organizations and even police associations.

When Farrant started “cold-calling” psychologists, he said he was told he was “not necessarily an emergency case” despite having suicidal thoughts.

In addition, Farrant says some psychologists told him they would not speak with him, as Section 649 of the Criminal Code prohibits jurors from disclosing jury deliberations.

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When Farrant reached a psychologist who would take him on, he says he spent thousands on sessions. He says he believes jurors who have served their civic duty should be able to receive help from the provinces or territories.

In support of this, Farrant began writing to MPs, provincial attorneys general and the attorney general of Canada — but only received silence.

After little response, he turned to the media.

New supports introduced

In 2016, in the wake of media reports — some involving Farrant — Ontario announced a new support program allowing for jurors to access up to four one-hour counselling sessions with the possibility of more. The program took effect in January 2017.

Since 2015, most provinces and territories have put similar supports in place. Alberta was the first province in the country to do so in 2015, making four counselling sessions available to jurors during or after a trial.

Click to play video: 'Juror supports now available in Saskatchewan'
Juror supports now available in Saskatchewan

Six provinces and one territory — Ontario and Alberta among them — provide at least four counselling sessions to jurors, while Manitoba and the Northwest Territories provide at least one to two sessions, respectively.

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New Brunswick has no limit on the number of free counselling sessions available to jurors, while Nova Scotia provides financial assistance if a person has no private insurance.

Quebec also provides help to jurors, but that support must be requested from the trial judge.

And while Nunavut does not have a juror support program, people can access help through its health department.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Minister of Justice David Lametti said the federal government recognizes “adequate support” for jurors is critical to their well-being and that it is working with provinces and territories to improve such services. The statement also said the federal government recognizes jurisdictions have various supports and that it is trying to facilitate the “sharing of best practices.”

Ottawa looking at easing restrictions

Despite most of Canada having some form of support for jurors, Farrant and Daenzer say more consistent help is needed.

“There’s a lot more that we can do to make jury duty better because we want people to go into jury duty feeling that it is an important civic duty,” Farrant said.

In 2017, he appealed to the federal government for support. In response, the House of Commons justice committee recommended a national approach on juror support be implemented following a study.

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Click to play video: 'Getting mental health support for Canadian jurors'
Getting mental health support for Canadian jurors

Kamkar says a national standard method of care would benefit jurors.

“We certainly would benefit from ongoing research in that area and, certainly, to develop … a standardized plan to ensure that whoever provides any jury duty has access to care,” she said. 

Since the committee report, a private member’s bill — Bill C-417 — that would amend the Criminal Code to allow jurors to speak about trial deliberations with a mental health professional has seen all-party support.

On Friday, however, the bill died in the Senate when it adjourned for the current parliamentary session.

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Lametti’s spokesperson had earlier said the ministry supported the bill and hoped it would “continue to progress” through the Senate.

As governments work to improve support, Daenzer says officials should remember why jurors should have access to help when they need it.

“If we want to support the justice system, we need to support the jurors who do their duty,” she said.

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