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In 2015 I served as a juror in a first degree murder trial in Ontario, along with 11 other ordinary people from all walks of life. I was completely unprepared for what would transpire.
Like many jurors, I took my responsibility very, very seriously, and observed a complicated and gruesome trial unfold over four months before delivering a verdict. I was proud to have served as a juror, and would do it again if asked of me.
During the trial I noticed my behaviour changing. I was becoming increasingly agitated, unable to sleep, extremely restless, and hyper-vigilant. I chalked this up to being stressed, and the burden of a juror, and that it would end soon. But it didn’t end. It only got worse. After the trial I was unable to shed many of the disturbing trial images and watched them become part of my day-to-day. I became detached from life, unable to return to my family and friends as I had before. My symptoms intensified clouding every aspect of my life. The first place I sought help was from the Court, which I assumed had resources to address jurors in crisis. I was wrong.
Calls to the courthouse went unanswered. I learned that in Canada most provinces do not offer any counselling or resources to jurors, and those that do, require a Judge’s Order – often with stipulations. I was becoming increasingly ill. After a dizzying search for counselling which took many, many months I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and began cognitive behavioural therapy. I was also determined to address what was clearly an enormous gap in the system.
I’m proud that after writing many letters, lobbying and going public in the media, the Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced the Juror Support Program, a crisis line and free counselling available to any former juror. Any Canadian serving on a jury should receive the same support, no matter where they live. Twelve former jurors from across the country all having served in high profile, disturbing trials agreed and joined me in writing the Attorney General of Canada and Prime Minister, as well as Premiers and Provincial Attorney Generals, in what became known as the “12 Angry Letters.” The House of Commons Justice Committee unanimously agreed to study Juror Trauma and Counselling and write a proposal to the government. My lobbying continues.
I remain a PTSD patient committed to my recovery. I’m committed to ensuring that no juror suffers as a result of their civic duty, and gets the support they need. I’m committed to reducing the stigma around mental illness and the benefits of counselling and support. Change can happen! It IS possible.
Hats Off to you for allowing me to share my story with you, and be a part of your incredible evening!
By Mark Farrant