New bill introduced in Canadian Senate to improve support for jurors affected by PTSD

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 with PTSD push for better mental health support during, after trials (June 23) – Jun 23, 2019

A bill has been introduced in the Senate of Canada that former jurors, senators and MPs are hoping will help improve support for jurors diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other mental health issues triggered by serving on a jury trial.

Bill S-207 was introduced by Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu on Thursday and is similar to a bill previously introduced in the House of Commons in the 42nd Parliament, but died on the order paper when the 2019 federal election was called.

The bill would amend the Criminal Code to allow jurors to discuss aspects of jury deliberations following the trial with a licenced health care professional. Currently, discussing deliberations with anyone is considered illegal, thanks to what’s often known as the “jury secrecy” law.

In October 2018, Conservative MP Michael Cooper introduced his own private member’s bill, Bill C-417, that was similar to Boisvenu’s bill, and had passed through the House of Commons with bipartisan support.

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However, when it reached the Senate in April, it did not get past first reading before the chamber went on summer break. When the 43rd general election was called in September, the bill died on the order paper.

READ MORE: ‘Disappointing’: Bill to improve support for jurors with PTSD won’t become law

In an interview, Cooper told Global News that he had reached out to Boisvenu to see if he would bring the bill to the Senate, who then moved forward to introduce the legislation.

“Right now, the Senate doesn’t have a lot on its plate — that will change very quickly — so the idea was to get it into the Senate so it could be taken up at the earliest opportunity and hopefully return to the House expeditiously,” he said.

He said he put it forward to be introduced in the Senate because a private member’s bill in the House is a “lottery,” which could result in a delay. When a bill is introduced in the Senate and passes through all stages and is then sponsored in the House by an MP, it does not need to go through a draw process, limiting its delay.

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Cooper stressed the bill was important because “no one should be denied the ability to get the mental health treatment they require” because they’re dealing with issues as a result of performing their civic duty.

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Asked about bipartisan support, Cooper said NDP MP Alistair MacGregor came to the Senate when the bill was presented to show his support, and his office had also reached out to Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who had been supportive of the legislation in the previous Parliament.

Housefather told Global News that if there’s another bill similar or identical to C-417, he would “certainly support it,” adding he would need to still read the new legislation to see if it differs.

“It’s really important for Canadian jurors,” he said.

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

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 in an interview that he was “very pleased” the bill returned quickly to Parliament and is hopeful it will pass through the Senate quickly.

He said he’s hoping the bill gets the same attention it received in the past with a “non-partisan lens.”

“It’s a very straightforward bill,” he said. “It’s a very no-nonsense, no-brainer piece of legislation because of the fact that this condition has existed for so long and has affected many Canadians post-trial serving on juries.

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“The fact that a juror cannot participate fully in their mental health recovery, it’s something we need to correct.”

Though pleased with the bill, Farrant said there is still more that the federal government can do, such as working with the judiciary to identify mental health challenges and provide funding for mental health supports.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti said in a statement to Global News that Bill C-417 received the government’s “full support” in the previous parliament, and said they look forward to seeing Bill S-207 progress in the Senate.

Housefather said he has had discussions with Lametti and said he was “very committed to improving the experience for Canadian jurors.”

The bill will have to proceed to a second reading, which is expected in February, and both a committee and report stage, before seeing a third reading.

Unless there are changes needed, it would then head to the House of Commons to go through similar stages. If there are no disagreements on the text, it could then be passed and receive royal assent to become law.

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