MPs and former jurors are expressing disappointment as the clock runs out on a bill that would have improved support for jurors diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bill C-417 was introduced last year in the House of Commons and would have amended the Criminal Code to allow jurors to discuss jury deliberations with a licensed health-care professional. Currently, discussing deliberations with anyone is considered illegal, often known as the “jury secrecy” law.
The private member’s bill passed through the House with all-party unanimous support, but with Parliament not expected to resume handling of the bill, it looks as though it will officially die when the writ drops to mark the start of the 2019 federal election.
Mark Farrant, who served as a juror on a murder trial and was later diagnosed with PTSD, has pushed for uniform support across the country for the past several years. He said it’s “extremely disappointing” the bill didn’t get past first reading in the Senate.
“It never really got the chance to be heard in the Senate at all,” he told Global News. “The bill was a very sound change to the Criminal Code … It’s a real shame that it wasn’t given its voice.”
Farrant was one of several former jurors who testified before the House’s justice and human rights committee in late 2017, which led to multiple recommendations to help jurors as well as Bill C-417 being put forward.
In 2014, Farrant served as jury foreman on the murder trial of Farshad Badakhshan, who was eventually found guilty in the death of his girlfriend.
He said jury duty is a “mandatory civic duty” and that more support is needed.
“We don’t conscript for the military anymore … but we do conscript for jury duty. It’s mandatory,” Farrant said.
Bill C-417 was first tabled by Conservative MP Michael Cooper and seconded by NDP MP Murray Rankin.
Cooper said that while he was disappointed, he felt the result was “expected” because it came to the Senate late in the session and there was a “heavy legislative agenda” before the upper house. But he said he was glad he was still able to have moved the bill forward.
“I think at least there’s a greater awareness about this issue as a result of my having introduced the bill,” he said.
The Alberta MP said he focused on amending the Criminal Code to allow for deliberations to be discussed with a health-care professional based on what he had heard from jurors who testified before the justice committee.
“You’re sequestered with 11 other strangers, there’s pressure on trying to come to the right decision,” he said. “The stakes are high, especially in the most serious cases, where you could be sending someone to prison for the rest of their life and … you’re going through very difficult evidence discussing it.”
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Liberal MP and justice committee chair Anthony Housefather said the bill took into account one of the recommendations made in a report issued last year.
He acknowledged to Global News that senators had a busy legislative agenda but believed it could have been done in a “very cursory way.”
“It’s a no-brainer,” Housefather said. “It’s something that nobody opposed. The fact that the Senate didn’t act on it, there was no excuse related to anything other than not having the time or the interest to take up this private member’s bill.”
Cooper said he plans to push for the bill to become law in the next Parliament, should he be re-elected in the 2019 federal election.
“I will absolutely continue to take up this issue … I will do whatever I can to see that this becomes the law in the next Parliament,” Cooper said.
Housefather echoed those statements.
“I will do everything I can to make sure that this and other substantial reforms related to jurors are adopted early in the Parliament,” he said.