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Senator revives bill to help jurors access mental health supports

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OTTAWA — Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has reintroduced a bill that would allow jury members to seek mental health support from a professional after traumatic experiences during a criminal trial.

Bill S-206 would amend a section of the Criminal Code that currently makes it illegal for jurors to discuss jury deliberations forever, which critics say prevents them from seeking mental and emotional support.

An amendment to section 649 of the code would allow jurors to disclose, in certain circumstances, aspects of jury proceedings to health-care professionals for the purpose of medical or therapeutic treatment.

Both Boisvenu and Sen. Lucie Moncion, a supporter of the bill, said this change would help jurors seek support post-trial, as health-care professionals are currently reluctant to help for fear of contravening the expectation of jury secrecy.

Former juror Mark Farrant and founder of the Canadian Juries Commission said while this amendment to the Criminal Code has been a "victim of circumstance," now is the right opportunity for it to be passed.

"How can someone get to the root of their trauma and build towards healing if they are legally forbidden from discussing the very thing that has impacted them?" he asked at a news conference Thursday alongside Boisvenu and Moncion.

Tina Daenzer, a former juror in the Paul Bernardo trial, which included two first-degree murders and two aggravated sexual assaults, told the news conference she was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"If you love this country, and believe in its justice system, as a citizen you have to want to participate. And if you participate, you should be looked after to ensure your mental health is not compromised," she said.

Boisvenu introduced the bill in the Senate Wednesday, marking the fourth time the proposed legislation has been put before Parliament since 2018, when Conservative MP Michael Cooper introduced a private member's bill.

Cooper's bill died when the federal election was called in 2019 and Boisvenu reintroduced it later that year, but it died again when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August 2020.

It was revived for a third time by Boisvenu, but had not been fully discussed in the chamber before summer break, and Parliament was then dissolved when Trudeau called an election in August.

"It's time to simply get it done," Cooper told the news conference. 

"Jurors play an integral role in the administration of justice in Canada, often at a considerable personal cost. We owe it to them to see the speedy passage of this legislation."

Boisvenu said in French, "I am confident that the 44th Parliament will be the right one to pass this bill and alleviate the mental suffering of thousands of jurors in Canada."

Moncion said she and Boisvenu will be advocating with their colleagues to move forward with approving the bill at second reading.

Boisvenu said he thinks the second reading of the bill will start next week in the chamber.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly reported Boisvenu planned to reintroduce the bill on Thursday.

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