Sometimes Canadians do not hear enough about the excellent non-partisan work being done by House of Commons Committees. I chair the Justice and Human Rights Committee where Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats collegially try to deliver results for Canadians. All of our members were united in launching our current study on counselling and other mental health supports for jurors. This is the first time that a House of Commons Committee has studied this issue.
We have listened to witnesses from across the country and abroad. We have heard from former jurors, psychologists and mental health experts. They have made clear that the current system in most provinces and territories is failing our jurors from a mental health perspective.
We seat jurors without properly educating them on what to expect at trial. Compensation starts at zero and then ranges from $30 to $160 a day, depending on the province and duration of the trial. (Quebec is at the top end of that scale.) Employers are not obliged to pay jurors in most provinces. As such, in addition to often having to hear harrowing testimony, jurors often face financial stress, as well. Other jurors continue to work during trials by going into the office at night and weekends to keep up. We do not cater to their childcare needs or other family obligations. In most provinces, psychological support is not provided during trial and in many provinces support is not provided after trial. There is no mandatory debriefing. These are just a few of the troubling issues we need to address.
While some provinces, such as Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, have proactively moved forward with juror support programs that address some of these issues, we need to make sure that those who serve as jurors are cared for in each and every province and territory.
Mental health issues are not uncommon for jurors, something that has an impact on their families, too. Studies presented to the Committee show that 30 to 50 per cent of jurors reported that gruesome evidence was at least moderately stressful and a significant number of jurors exposed to such evidence will experience moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that could benefit from clinical intervention. This is based on 14 studies published since 1985.
Our Criminal Code prohibition on jurors discussing deliberations post-trial, even with their mental health providers, also has been identified as an issue for the committee to address. In the United States there is no comparable prohibition. At least, an exception for mental health providers may be warranted.
Serving on a jury is an important civic duty. Citizens should not see it as a punishment but as an honour. It is the obligation of almost every Canadian to serve as a juror if called upon, unless they are able to demonstrate a valid reason for exclusion. As such we need to make sure that everyone going to report for jury duty knows that we have a fair framework under which, they will be supported. Jurors are civilians who are generally not trained or prepared to deal with the mental trauma that may emanate from jury duty but still have the responsibility to serve when called upon. It is incumbent on the state to help them.
The quality of justice depends not only on the quality of our laws and our lawyers and judges, but also on the quality of our jurors. Now that our hearings on the subject are concluding, I am looking forward to working with my fellow committee members to draft recommendations to the federal and provincial governments on how to best assist jurors before, during and following a trial.