Speech – 2019.02.07 – Bill C-417


Bill C-417 – Jury Duty
2nd Reading

February 6, 2019

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-417, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Section 649, the disclosure of information by jurors), which has been brought forward by the Conservative Member from St. Albert – Edmonton.

I have had the honour of knowing this honourable Member for over 10 years, Mr. Speaker, and I am very aware of his experience and encyclopedic knowledge of statutory law…  So any Bill brought forward by him amending the Criminal Code, clearly says to me that this is a required change, and that I can be confident in supporting it.

The member is very passionate about Justice Issues, but even more so about protecting the victims of crime.

Mr. Speaker, jury duty is something most of us will never experience.  Many of us will be contacted for the selection process, but few are actually chosen.

These Canadians who are chosen, and perform their civic duty, are often exposed to the horrific details of crimes, without the benefit of being mentally prepared for the experience.

They are silent observers, who must for the benefit of a fair trial; expose themselves to images, testimony and unbelievable details, to ensure that they are considering all the evidence before making their decision.

They do not have the ability to change the channel, to leave the room, or simply avoid the experience.  They are compelled to go through with their service from beginning to end.

Many, after seeing and hearing the unimaginable, have to gather as a group to discuss everything in detail, again and again, and then to come up with their decision for a verdict.

As you can imagine, this can leave a normally healthy person with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)… and those who are predisposed to mental health issues are often even worse off.

An increasingly growing awareness about PTSD in society has really opened up our eyes to the effect it has had on people, their families, and those around them. And that’s a good thing.

We suggest those with PTSD get professional help to address their problems…, but this is not always possible, especially for those who are suffering because of their jury duty.

Because in Canada, it is illegal to discuss your jury deliberation experience with anyone.  This, on the surface, is a good policy to ensure our court system does not degenerate into a genre of “tell-all“ books by those on juries.

However, this makes it almost impossible for those with jury duty PTSD to seek professional help, because they simply cannot talk about what is causing their health problems.

Can you imagine being sick, and then being told you can see a doctor, but you cannot discuss anything that has to do with how you became sick, or what you are experiencing?  That is basically the reality here Mr. Speaker.

Bill C-417 seeks to create an exemption for those affected by their jury duty, to be able to discuss what they need to with their health professional.  Of course, those deliberations would be protected by patient confidentiality.

To do this, Bill C-417 is proposing Section 649 of the Criminal Code be amended to allow former jurors to discuss their deliberations with designated health professionals once the trail is over.

This, in fact, is also a unanimous recommendation of the Justice Committee of this House, Mr. Speaker.  Our colleagues have examined this issue in detail and this is their recommendation.  So now it is up to us here to make the necessary legislative changes.

It is also worth noting that this concept has come to fruition in Australia already.  In the time since, it has shown to work without any problems.  Now it is Canada’s time to implement these changes.

If you say you support victims of crime, you have to allow them to access the help that they need.

Major players in our justice system have also spoken in favour of this change, including the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Given that all Parties have supported this idea up to this point, I expect that to continue.  I just hope we can get it through this legislative process before the Writ is dropped.

Mr. Speaker, I was quite moved when I read the testimony given in committee by former jurors who spoke to the challenges they faced after their jury duty.

I was particularly struck by the way their experience left them in a position where everyday things became a source of stress and anxiety.  Many of those on jury duty, who have to witness testimony and evidence of serious crimes, speak of the lasting and permanent impairment on their emotional well-being.  It is really quite unimaginable.

Much of the court testimony is already made public, through the media, and can be discussed, however in a study done by Dr. Sonia Chopra, she found that 70% of jurors said that their stressors occurred as a result of the deliberation process – that part of jury duty they cannot talk about.

At deliberation, they face the stress of rehashing facts, testimony and interpretations thereof.  They have the stress of knowing victims are expecting a certain result, but also the stress of knowing that they must be ready to deny, if the facts do not support a guilty verdict.

They hold the life of the accused in the balance, and the stress of not wanting to make a mistake… it can be overwhelming.

Are they about to condemn an innocent person?

Are they about to set a mass-murderer free?

Will they make the right decision?

Mr. Speaker, I think that this Bill, while a great idea, does not mention some of the other aspects of this issue, that tend to bother me greatly, especially as a member of the Health Committee.

You see, as a society, we pay for mental health services for incarcerated prisoners in this country; however we do not pay for the same services for our innocent jurors.  As a society, we need to think about that.  Are we comfortable this arrangement?  I certainly am not.

Even if we were to agree to pay for mental health services for jurors, we do not currently have the capacity to provide that service here in Canada.  Over and over again, we hear at Health Committee how Canada is challenged to provide mental health services in all regions of this country.

It is my hope that if we create the opportunity for jurors to seek mental health support, the provinces will prioritize their work to set up the proper support system for them.

Part of this progress I expect, will be spurred by the work of the Member from Cariboo-Prince George, and his tireless efforts to create a Federal Framework on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

His work to pass his Private Members’ Bill C-211 will be instrumental in this process, I anticipate.  C-211 was supported by all parties in this House, and it demonstrates our shared will to address PTSD here in Canada – no matter who is affected or why.

It is my hope that Bill C-211 will allow for the creation of a standard of diagnosis, care, treatment, and even terminology for PTSD that will be consistent from one end of our nation to another.

Improving mental health services in Canada is a shared responsibility.  All parties have studied the issue, all parties agree more needs to be done, and now we just need to do it.  We need to insist that some provinces ‘up their game’ to ensure better consistency and availability of Mental Health services.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I am not naïve and I know there will always be unreasonable calls for improvements to Mental Health services, but so far I have not heard one person say they think we here in Canada are doing a great job so far.

Investing in Mental Health is an investment.  By providing help to those that need it, we can allow people to live normal lives, hold employment, pay taxes, raise good families and participate in the community.  Ignoring their needs costs us greatly, both in terms of money and as a society.

So Mr. Speaker, I applaud my Conservative colleague from St. Albert-Edmonton for bringing this sensible proposal forward.  I applaud the Justice Committee for studying this serious issue.

It will be an honour for me to support this Bill, and I ask my colleagues from all parties to do the same.  Thank you.