I call the meeting to order.
Good afternoon, everyone. It is a pleasure to reconvene the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. As we continue our study on mental health support for jurors, we have the pleasure today of being joined from Medicine Hat by Ms. Shauna Jobagy, who is a deputy clerk of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta.
Welcome, Ms. Jobagy.
Ms. Dora Newcombe, who is representing the Alberta juror support program, is joining us from Edmonton.
Welcome, Ms. Newcombe.
Ladies, what we're going to do is hear from you—about eight minutes for the two of you—and then what we really want to do is ask you questions. We're going to start with the questions as soon as you've finished your opening statements.
Ladies, the floor is yours. I'm not sure who's starting.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and honourable members. Thank you for the opportunity to present this afternoon on behalf of Alberta Justice.
As a bit of background, I have been employed with Alberta Justice for 35 years. I have been part of the process of summonsing jurors, clerking the jury trial, clerking the selection, and scheduling the jury trials. Most recently, I was the team lead in implementing the Alberta juror support program.
Years ago, Alberta was concerned about the effect on jurors of both toxic evidence and of being in a very confrontational jury room, as most jurors come with no experience with regard to either. In fact, I still have the mental health package that we used in our jurisdiction, dated 2008.
Each court in Alberta was providing juror counselling assistance in their own unique way; however, there was no unified approach. Our concern was the result of our own experiences, which was supported by the research that follows.
In 2009, Madam Justice Elizabeth Hughes and her team produced a report wherein one of the recommendations was to implement a juror support program as a result of her research in the field. Justice Hughes' research included references to the study by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom called “Vicarious Traumatization as a Consequence of Jury Service”, which includes earlier studies from Canada, the United States, and New Zealand.
This study revealed that for the more vulnerable candidates, jury duty can lead to severe stress or post-traumatic stress disorder, or what the researchers refer to as “vicarious traumatization”. The findings showed that some 23% of the jurors reported dealing with traumatic events; 5% reported that they had responded with intense fear, helplessness, or horror; and one juror was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She references literature from “Stress and the Canadian Criminal Trial Jury” by Sanjeev Anand and Heather Manweiller, which includes American case studies that conclude that if juries are to continue to play a role in the administration of criminal justice, the impact of trials on jurors cannot continue to be largely ignored.
Her research identifies the program already implemented in Queensland, Australia, where their Jury Act indicates, “A former member of a jury may disclose jury information to a health professional who is treating the former member in relation to issues arising out of the former member’s service on the jury.”
As a result of this research, counselling has been recognized as a necessary and important part of our system to support jurors on all criminal trials, notwithstanding their nature. As you've heard in your recent committee meetings, not only can trial evidence impact a juror, but what happens in the jury room itself may also affect a juror's emotional health.
The report made four recommendations. The first three were to provide juror counselling, to update our current handout mailed to prospective jurors regarding the process, and to create one consistent general information sheet to be provided to the selected jurors in all Alberta locations. It also made recommendations regarding jury comfort, an increase in fees, reimbursement for lost wages, escorts, and so on.
To implement the recommendation for a juror support program, the team developed a process to ensure that all jurors who required assistance could access it, that program information was provided to all jurors regardless of subject matter, and that the same services were being offered consistently province-wide. The judiciary can now rely on court administration to ensure that this practice is being followed, no matter which jurisdiction they may be sitting in.
Justice Hughes also recommended that jurors be enabled to access this counselling at any time after the commencement of a trial, including mid-trial; however, the sessions have to be focused on emotional issues and not on the evidence.
Through the procurement process, an invitation to tender was circulated, wherein Shepell-fgi was the successful service provider.
The team had recommended that four sessions be offered per juror, to be utilized within two months of the conclusion of the trial, with a clause added that should the counsellor determine that more sessions were required, an application for an extension could be submitted to our department for consideration. This figure was a result of consultations with our Shepell contacts—Dora Newcombe, who is joining us, and Claude Bourque—and Madam Justice Hughes, through Corinne Jamieson, our Court of Queen's Bench executive director here in Alberta.
Shepell drafted two handouts to be provided to jurors at the beginning of the trial, one providing information regarding the impact of a court case and another with contact information on how to cope when a difficult court case has concluded. Jurors can access the toll-free number provided on the handout that will connect them directly with a counsellor.
As a side note, it is important to mention that some of our judiciaries do take the time to meet with the jury panel in the jury room after the trial has concluded, when it's appropriate. At that time, they also remind them of our counselling offer.
In Alberta, for a one-year period from September 2015 to August 2016, 68 jury trials were conducted. They impacted approximately 816 Albertans, and seven contacted Shepell for counselling.
Thank you. That's my presentation.
Members, thank you for this opportunity to appear before the committee this afternoon to talk about an important subject, mental health support for Canadian jurors.
At Morneau Shepell, we're proud of the work we've done with our provincial partners and pleased to see this committee take an active interest in ensuring jurors are provided high-quality support, especially after challenging and graphic trials.
As a leader in the mental health field and mental health solutions since 1979, we have experience and expertise in helping individuals and their families deal with a range of traumatic events. It was through our partnership with Alberta Justice and Ms. Jobagy and her team that we were able to start the dialogue around support for jurors following the research that had been done by Madam Justice E.A. Hughes.
It's really important that we look at the impact of a trial on a juror. I don't believe that many times people understand what jury members go through. They're getting called to do their civic duty, which is quite honourable, but in being part of a jury, they don't really know what they're going to be in for. As a result, what may happen is that they're exposed to graphic information, as you heard during your earlier hearings, and it can lead to higher risk of longer-term adverse experiences.
When we started having these discussions with Alberta Justice, the nature of all the impacts wasn't really clear. There wasn't a clear blueprint or outline regarding best practices, so we really were on the cutting and leading edge of this whole initiative.
I need to point out that it was a long journey to get to this point of launching this program, but we really wanted to do our due diligence, whether that would be from Morneau Shepell or the Alberta Justice team, to look at all the key issues.
We have a program that is available to support jurors right from the very beginning, because they're given resource information to help them prepare for what they might experience. Also, they have access to counselling support during and after the trial, because we recognize that when jurors are coming to participate in a jury trial, they may already have challenges in their lives. That can also impact them and add additional stress during the jury and trial process. It's not just for the juror; we also have to understand that when one individual is participating in a jury, it also has an impact on the family.
We looked at offering counselling, as has been mentioned. It is four sessions of counselling, either in person or via telephone counselling so people don't have to travel to access the counselling support. We also know that we can offer extensions to individuals, should they need additional counselling support.
We also recognize the need for the involvement of family members. We can also offer an extension or include family members. Typically, it would be the spouse or partner of the jury member as part of the counselling process. The programs provide that clinical support, but we're very focused on ensuring the integrity of the court process. Should a jury member access the program during the trial, the boundaries and parameters of what can be discussed during the counselling sessions are clearly laid out.
In closing, let me thank you for giving both of us this opportunity today to discuss this jury support program. It's a program that we're both very passionate about. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm very glad to hear that clear answer, because I was going to follow along that same line of questioning from Mr. McKinnon.
There is that section of the Criminal Code that allows for a judge to provide supports for jurors who have disabilities. It could be very easy for this committee to make a recommendation that an additional section be added to the Criminal Code that allows for mental health supports to be provided. I'm glad to hear that could be a possibility for us.
Ms. Jobagy, I'm curious, because we have heard some testimony at this committee about how there are concerns that our justice system and the supports for it could turn into a bit of a patchwork quilt, with jurors in one province being eligible for some great support while others would have nothing at all.
Has Alberta Justice had any inquiries from other provincial governments or officials in other justice programs inquiring about the strengths of your program? Is there some curiosity? Can you tell this committee anything about inquiries from other provincial governments?
Good afternoon, members, and good afternoon, Chair.
On behalf of the Province of Ontario and the assistant deputy attorney general of court services division, Ms. Sheila Bristo, I thank you for inviting me today to this important discussion about supports for jurors.
My name is Julia Bielecka, and as the chair mentioned, I am the manager of the operational support branch in the court services division of Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General. My area is responsible for providing policy guidance and support to the jury process in the province.
In the time allotted to us today I will provide a high-level overview of the jury process in Ontario and the types of supports that are currently in place for jurors, including information about Ontario's juror support program, through which we provide counselling support for jurors.
We believe that serving as a juror is an important public service. Juries are drawn from a broad cross-section of society, and because of that, they can act as the conscience of the community. Those who participate often feel a heightened sense of community involvement because they have done their part to make sure justice has been served.
What does jury service look like in Ontario right now? Each year approximately 500,000 questionnaires are mailed out across the province to prospective jurors, who are selected randomly from the most recent municipal voters lists. For people living in a first nation community, other lists, such as band lists, are used. The juror questionnaire is used to determine whether a questionnaire recipient is eligible for jury duty. The questions in the questionnaire are based on eligibility requirements in Ontario's Juries Act.
Upon completing and returning a juror questionnaire, if an individual is eligible for jury duty, he or she is placed on a jury roll. The following year the individual may be randomly chosen from the roll to receive a “summons to juror” notice, which tells them that they must attend court on a specific date to be considered further for serving on the jury. They may also be chosen to serve as jurors at a coroner's inquest.
If an individual is selected to sit on a jury for a trial or inquest, they will be advised of the estimated length as part of the selection process. Some jurors may be required for several days and others for several weeks. There's no set time limit. Informing the juror of the estimated length as part of the selection process helps them gain an understanding as to how long they may need to be away from family and work.
In Ontario we provide a number of supports to jurors. First, to help potential jurors understand the jury process, Ontario created a jury duty video. It is called Jury Duty and You. Jurors can view the video when attending court for their summons or they can view the video online on our website or on YouTube.
We also currently provide financial support to jurors in certain circumstances. A juror may be paid for daily travel expenses, accommodation, or when serving on a trial for more than 10 days. There is currently no allowance for child or elder care. The ministry is carefully considering how best to address this issue, as we understand that this may be a hardship for some jurors. The payment of jurors is made in accordance with the requirements of Ontario's Juries Act and regulation 4 of the Administration of Justice Act.
If a potential juror needs accommodation for a disability, they are encouraged to contact the court office as soon as they receive their summons. Every effort is made to provide necessary accommodations for people with disabilities to participate fully in the jury process. For example, a judge may allow an individual to use technical, personal, interpretive, or other support services to enable that person to serve on the jury. If a juror is receiving employment insurance benefits, they can attend jury duty and continue to receive their benefits.
While jury duty is an important civic responsibility and can be rewarding, it can often be very difficult and stressful for jurors. The evidence in the testimony some jurors hear can be graphic. It can deal with very traumatic and violent crimes. In some cases, individuals have to take significant time away from their jobs, their families, and their lives. Talking to a qualified counsellor can help jurors after a trial or inquest.
The juror support program, which Ontario established in partnership with Morneau Shepell in January 2017, is available for Ontario's jurors at the conclusion of a trial or inquest. Jurors are able to receive up to eight one-hour counselling sessions. A juror can speak with a counsellor toll free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Jurors can receive this counselling in any manner they choose—in person, over the phone, by email, or by video conference, in English or French. They also receive disability accommodation when requested. There are no out-of-pocket expenses for jurors, and the program is completely confidential.
Supporting jurors to perform their civic duty and making counselling more easily accessible for those who need it are very important to the ministry and the province. Since the launch of our program in January 2017, 24 jurors have contacted Morneau Shepell for counselling.
Ontario recognizes that the jury process may be challenging and stressful for some individuals. If a prospective juror has questions or if they require assistance in completing the jury questionnaire, they're able to contact ministry staff from our provincial jury centre from Monday to Friday. Once they're summoned, they can contact the courthouse to which they have been summoned before their court date. If an individual has concerns or difficulties once they arrive at the courthouse, they can speak to one of our court services officers or a jury clerk for assistance at any point in time.
A juror can also make a request to the presiding judicial official to be excused from further participation in a trial or inquest if they feel that they cannot continue on in the process. At that point, the judge or coroner will determine whether to grant that juror's request.
Beyond the supports outlined above, a judicial officer may grant additional supports or compensation at their discretion.
We do our best to ensure that concerns raised receive a respectful and effective response.
I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm Ontario's commitment to ensuring a positive experience for jurors who serve on a trial or inquest.
On behalf of the ministry, thank you very much, and I also thank all those who participate in the jury process each year in Ontario. We are always open to considering feedback on how to improve the jury process in Ontario.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have today, and we look forward to receiving the recommendations of this committee in the future.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to present information on Yukon's new juror support program.
To begin, I should note that our program is new only in the sense that Yukon brought in a formal program this year. In fact, Yukon's courts have recognized the need for psychological support for jurors since at least 2001, when the presiding judge ordered that a group debriefing session be offered to jurors after a first-degree murder trial. This type of support was also subsequently arranged after other trials when the judiciary determined that the court proceedings may have been uncomfortable or difficult for jurors. That remains a possibility to this day.
Several years after that initial session, in anticipation of a number of upcoming murder trials, Yukon applied for and received federal funding to research the jury experience during such trials. As part of that research project, Yukon arranged for a voluntary group debriefing session led by two contracted psychologists, to be held 24 hours to 72 hours after the conclusion of each of three trials. Some of the recommendations stemming from that study informed the development of the formal program that was started in 2017, including that printed materials be provided and that individual debriefing sessions be offered.
In the development of Yukon's juror support program, we sought advice from our colleagues in both Alberta and Ontario, from whom you have already heard today. Our program is similar to theirs in that we offer a printed brochure to all jurors after each jury trial that identifies common signs and symptoms of stress reactions, offers suggestions for self-care and ways that family and friends can help, and provides information on how to access professional counselling services on a voluntary and confidential basis. These services are provided by the same counselling service that is contracted by Yukon government to offer the employee and family assistance program, but jurors do not have to be Yukon government employees to access the juror support program. That counselling service is currently provided by Morneau Shepell.
Each juror can access up to four counselling sessions free of charge to help them process their reactions to the trial. Two additional sessions may also be offered at the discretion of the counsellor, and more may also be approved if needed. Because jurors may experience both immediate and delayed reactions, there is no time limit by which jurors must access the sessions. Counselling services are available in a number of different formats, including in person and by phone, and are completely confidential.
However, because the counselling service provides statistics on the juror support program, we are able to tell what percentage of jurors are accessing the support. In the first few months of operation of our program, we have seen an uptake rate of about 17%, which indicates that there is interest in this service in the Yukon.
In addition to the post-trial support program outlined just now, consideration has also been given to providing information to our jurors at the beginning of trials in order to help them prepare to process the material they will be exposed to. Yukon is therefore very interested in the work and recommendations of this committee in that regard.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I would be happy to answer any questions that committee members may have.