First of all, I'd like to thank you all for taking the time to do this important study. It's obvious that a gap needs to be filled, so thank you for taking the time to do this.
On January 18, 2016, I was chosen to be part of a 14-person jury in a murder and abuse trial of a four-year-old and a two-year-old, little girls.
I'll start with the selection process. There were hundreds of people in a room. Everyone was very nervous and not wanting to be selected, with things going on in life and being busy at work and having to be away from things. We didn't know what trial it was going to be until we got there, and it became very apparent that people really didn't want to be part of this jury for the obvious reason of it being about children.
The jury selection took about a morning. We were told right about lunchtime that the trial would start at approximately 1:30 that afternoon, so we had about an hour and a half over lunchtime to get affairs in order and be back at the courthouse, which is not an easy thing to do.
Our trial was relatively short, three weeks in duration. As with all trials, there were lots of very qualified and expert witnesses, police officers, DNA people, forensic pathologists, doctors, police personnel, things like that. I tried to take part of that as an opportunity to learn more about what these people do outside of what we see on TV, on shows, on CSI and things like that, and what actually goes on. But it doesn't take long to understand that what they're going to apply their expertise and knowledge to is not going to be easy.
For three weeks, we heard testimony and were shown photographs of the injuries to two little girls, the stories were told of what and how it happened and near the end, autopsy photos of a four-year-old girl. I don't think any of the 14 people in that jury box would be particularly ready to see those kinds of images.
There were 14 of us from every walk of life, from the unemployed to educated professionals, an 18-year-old girl, a 74-year-old grandmother, parents, non-parents alike, so in a way it was a nice cross-section of society but you also had many people in there who might not have been ready for what they were about to see and might not, at the conclusion of a trial, be able to access services, which is part of what we're here to talk about today.
I'm a teacher in Regina. I've been a teacher for 18 years. I'm now a principal of an elementary school. I think part of this process was difficult for me in that working with children every day over 18 years, I've worked with thousands of families. We see lots of kids maybe have some tough days sometimes, but to have to see what these people subjected these children to was particularly hard for someone who tries their best to make kids' day every day, so that was particularly difficult.
I mentioned the trial was three weeks away from work and things like that. It impacts family life during those three weeks, and not just you but your spouse and your family. It is substantially longer than that when you come out of a trial and you're trying to get your bearings again.
For me, I wanted to go back to work and be back with kids who were well and healthy and happy. I should never have been there. It was a waste of a week, and then we had a spring break. During that spring break, I finally took the advice of the people around me to seek counselling.
Through that counselling, one of the things I talked about was.... The trial ended late on a Friday. I mentioned 14 jurors. We were told 14 jurors so that if anybody dropped out, there would still be 12 to make decisions. All 14 were there at the end, and they needed to pull two jurors out of the deliberations.
Unfortunately—I say “unfortunately” purposefully—I was one of those who were pulled out and not allowed to make those decisions. That was extremely hard, because after seeing what happened to these little girls, for three weeks, to have no say, to have no part in the decision-making process was very tough. At the start, everybody jokingly said, “I hope I'm the one who gets pulled out,” and I obviously said it as well, but that last day, leaving the courtroom with “Thanks for three weeks. See you later” was exceptionally hard. I found out the verdict via Twitter the next day. To see what happened and be subjected to that, and then not be part of the decision-making process, was one of the most difficult things for me throughout that.
I don't want—and I've never wanted—for this to be something where people feel sorry for me, for people to say, “Poor you, you had to do that.” I believe in our justice system, in that we have juries for a reason. We need good, smart people to make decisions that will affect not only the accused but their families and the law in the future. You need juries to do that, but all along I've said that we need to have mechanisms in place to support people, if they should need it, after a trial.
I sought counselling. After about four appointments with the counsellor, who does a lot of work with first responders—EMTs and police specifically—he diagnosed me with PTSD. After what we had talked about.... I told him what we had seen and things like that. The way I was talking about it and the way I was carrying on daily life, he absolutely felt that this was the case.
It comes up every now and then in certain ways, ways you don't expect. Everyone has a bit of dark humour, so when I am at a family gathering and the baby is crying and someone says, “Just duct-tape him in the crib” or something, I have to leave. When you see what actually happened to children who were duct-taped, it's not a funny thing. That happened on a number of occasions, until people started to realize that they shouldn't be talking about that in that way.
Going back to work, the remaining part of that school year, I did not have a lot of trust in things that were happening with kids. A student would come to school with a bruise on their arm, and it might have been from soccer practice or a basketball game, but immediately I would be angry and questioning whether a parent or a sibling did that, how that bruise came to be, when really it was a very natural thing. Kids fall and scrape their knees. Kids do that all the time, yet I had a lot of distrust in what was going on with those kids.
I'm extremely lucky, and I've said this in a number of forums, privately and in the media. I'm very lucky to have an employer who provides assistance, monetary assistance to people who need counselling or other things. I have an exceptional wife who is brilliant and took a lot on in this process, although that's not her job, so there was stress for her as well in trying to make sure I was well. It takes a toll on a family.
For now, as I say, the issue comes up in different ways, at different times. I have gotten past some of that distrust, yet there are times where, for example, I may be lying in bed, and if my feet cross over, I have to immediately uncross them, because of pictures I've seen. This is now two years out, and those things are still coming up. I can't watch things like CSI, as I mentioned, or even 20/20, and W5, the investigative shows about these kinds of things, because it comes back.
I guess, in the end, what I've always wanted was a way for jurors to get help, should they need it. I understand that not everybody sees these things the same way, and that not everybody reacts to them the same way. There were people at our trial who may have gone back to work the Monday after, and said, “You know what? I'm glad that's over” and life goes on.
But I know there are people who come out of these trials, and it's months or maybe years afterward that they're still struggling with what they've seen and what they've heard. When people have to do jury duty, I think it's an omission to not support them afterward. I don't think it's anything purposeful. I don't think it was anybody deciding that, but I feel this is an opportunity to close that gap and make sure jurors are supported.
I open it up to questions, if anybody should have any.
Good evening. Thank you for the invitation to share my experience of serving as a juror in Canada. I want to thank you for conducting this study. I truly believe it will improve the experience for jurors in the future.
In June 2016, I served as forewoman in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. A teenager was charged with first-degree murder under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. He was 16 at the time of the crime.
But let me backtrack to share my full experience.
I've always been interested in the Canadian justice system. I took additional studies during my university education to learn about the history, structure, and rationale for the processes of justice in our country. I am proud of the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty by a judge or a jury of your peers.
The day I received my jury summons on the green piece of paper, I was nothing short of ecstatic. It was my turn to serve. I was fortunate in that navigating the process to get time away from work was relatively seamless and without a financial impact to my family. I attended two jury selection dates during my summons period. The process was relatively smooth and was supported by friendly and informed sheriffs at my local courthouse in Kamloops. When my number was called, I walked before the judge and counsel. The crown referred to his notes, the defence just looked me up and down, and I was accepted as a juror. Not a single question was asked. We were provided paperwork to fill in, and were told to report back for jury duty in about two weeks' time.
For nearly three weeks, I listened to evidence of how a normal teenager's first love turned into a complicated and manipulative love triangle. Eventually the girlfriend lured her second boyfriend to an elementary school field. She ran into the bushes, as planned. The innocent boy, 22 at the time, was shot from 50 feet away and fell to the ground. As the co-accused ran to check on the victim, they put two more bullets into him—one into his back and one into the back of his head.
I listened to the pathologist explain the damage of each one of those bullets and how they led to his death. I looked at autopsy photos and crime scene photos. I listened to undercover RCMP officers explain their detailed investigative techniques. I watched hours of undercover video of a “Mr. Big” operation. I read hundreds, if not thousands, of text messages between young lovers trying to make a relationship work, with accusations and facts of cheating. I watched as the accused in my trial sombrely walked officers through an exact crime scene re-enactment.
While all this was happening, I watched the accused in the box. He was just a kid, clean-cut and gently spoken, with what seemed like a great family. It was very easy to feel empathy for him. I watched his father, mother, and brother sit in court nearly every day. I saw the pain of the victim's mother as she testified. Every day I drove home and processed what I heard or saw that day. It was gut-wrenching, and hard not to feel sympathy for the accused.
The need to process and balance the emotions during trial and deliberations was significant. I think it's natural to think like a parent, to put yourself in their situation, but I was still trying to be 100% clear in my role to judge the facts and, as forewoman, to lead a jury to also just judge the facts. We aren't allowed to feel. I believe the fact that the accused in my trial was a highly relatable kid created extenuating circumstances and increased the intensity of jury deliberations and post-trial impacts.
For me, the most difficult process in serving as a juror was that of deliberations and the resulting post-trial discharge. The charge to the jury is provided by the judge. Sheriffs escort jury members to the jury-room and remove our cellphones and all contact to the outside world. Twelve strangers are locked in a very small room with two adjoining bathrooms. We're essentially told not to come out until everyone agrees.
I can't go into the specifics of deliberations, as that's the unspoken jury code, but it's an intense situation with opposing views, values, personalities, and inflamed tempers. As individuals are going through, all the normal comforts of life and most coping skills are removed. You don't sleep in your own bed, you don't eat your normal food, and you don't have your friends or family for comfort or to talk to. It's confusing and highly complicated, but there is an immense drive to do the right thing. At times there can be a sense of hopelessness.
Speaking as a forewoman, I believe there is extra stress in the position. Once back at the hotel room, I would lie awake at night thinking about how to bring 12 people to agreement. It was my only time alone to think. What questions could I ask? How could I get passionate people to listen to their peers and dig into the rationale for their thinking processes? It was exhausting.
I still process this as a small price to pay for the duty I was to provide. There were two families who were also deeply impacted by the crime that occurred. The decision by the jury would impact them for life.
On a late Saturday evening, I opened the jury-room door and advised our sheriff that we had a verdict. The court was called to order, and the jury walked in. All eyes—from the families, the lawyers, the judge, the accused, and the media—were on me. I announced the guilty verdict. I will never forget the sound of the courtroom in that moment.
Following that, we on the jury were thanked for our service and dismissed. We waited in the jury-room and had a brief conversation with Madam Justice. She was appreciative of our service and reminded us of the confidentiality of what happened in the jury-room.
At this time, I did ask what supports were available to jurors following our experience, because I knew I needed help. I was shocked to learn that there was likely nothing. Within 20 minutes of delivering a verdict, and after four days of being sequestered, I walked through an open parking lot with 11 other strangers and returned to normal life. I had Sunday to reconnect with my family and was back to work Monday.
That week I did have a message from our sheriff's office that they could arrange a debrief if enough jurors were interested. I can tell you that I wanted to debrief, and I certainly wanted to talk, but there was nothing in me at that time that really wanted to see my fellow jurors. That was the last time I heard from the court.
I did seek help. I spoke in roundabout ways with friends and with professionals paid for by benefits through my employer. From my previous experience in the fire service, I know that immediate support is needed to process your thoughts, ensure they are compartmentalized appropriately, and dealt with as they arise—immediately and over time. I still think of my experience weekly, sometimes daily. I have to make a conscious effort not to transfer what happened to these teenagers into how I parent my kids. Around town I see the family of the accused, and the lawyers, judge, and sheriffs involved in the trial. I smile and make eye contact, as do they, but it's like walking around with this deep secret that can't really be talked about.
I will be okay. I have a great support system, and I am very proud to have served as a juror in Canada. But I strongly believe that mental health and counselling support immediately post-trial for jurors are required to provide early intervention and avoid long-term mental health damage.
From my own learning, I have a few recommendations, which I'll summarize. There should be pretrial education and an explanation of what the experience may entail. I believe it's important that jurors make an informed choice to serve. Compensation needs to be considered. Although my employer covered my wages, this was a significant stressor for other members on our jury.
Jury-room configuration is worth a consideration. When spending 12 hours a day or more confined in a very small room with two adjoining bathrooms, a breakout room or an extra space to spread out would be beneficial.
A standardized jury discharge process is needed. It should include a debrief, with information to take home for future reference that identifies what an individual may or may not feel, maybe what's normal, and when and where to seek help. I mentioned a formal debrief. I would like consideration of a peer-led debriefing process. Can former jurors be trained to provide this care to future jurors? From my experience, I still wish I could safely talk to people who understand and who lived the experience without the feeling that I'm breaking the law if I have a conversation.
Lastly, I believe follow-up to jury members on the conclusion of sentencing would help to close the experience. My sentencing went on for a year after we delivered our verdict. The only updates I would get were in the media, and it was always bringing it up. It would have been nice to hear from the court.
Thank you again for the opportunity to contribute my experience and recommendations. Canada has a criminal justice system to be very proud of, and continuous improvements, such as those under consideration, will make a difference.
You know, I would echo Michaela's comments.
As time has gone on, you get a little clearer thinking on these things. Peer support, having other jurors who have been through the process and have been in the tiny jury-room, as Michaela mentioned, and have been in those deliberations, the stress of watching the families in the courtroom, things like that.... Only jurors really know what that's about and can maybe give some advice on how to deal with that.
I've said from the beginning that some type of group debrief afterwards is essential. We do that all time. We have a meeting. We have something that has happened—even at school, where we have an incident, a lockdown, something like that—and we debrief those things. To debrief it with the people who were in the room with you, to get an idea of what everyone else is thinking and feeling about these things, I think is absolutely essential.
Employers have employee assistance programs. I don't know if there's a way for each province to have some type of program like that specifically for jurors. I know that becomes a budgetary item, but I would suggest that the budget that would go into that may be far less in terms of the mental health care that could come days, weeks, or years down the road.
As an educator myself, I absolutely echo what Michaela said about pretrial, going in and standing in front of the prosecution and defence, not one question is asked, and they just say, yes, you're in. We talk a lot about mental health in our day and age. There are people who may be struggling with mental health who should never be on a jury, but by virtue of having a health card, they're selected to go. Also, some way to educate people before they go into these trials to have some forethought about what they're going to be doing....