Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-417 today. I congratulate my colleague on the justice committee, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, for bringing forward this bill.
During our study in committee on counselling and other mental health supports for jurors, we heard first-hand from jurors about the trauma they experienced from their participation in jury duty. In fact, our committee released a unanimous report in May that highlighted the necessity of the legislation we are now debating.
During the first hour of debate on Bill C-417, we heard from two other members of the justice committee, the member for Mount Royal and the member for Victoria, who both spoke of the need for this legislation. In fact, I would ask all members in this House to support this important legislation.
This bill would amend section 649 of the Criminal Code. It would add an exception to the offence of disclosure of jury proceedings so that it would not apply where disclosure was made for the purpose of receiving medical or psychiatric treatment, therapy or counselling from a health care professional following the trial.
The government has consistently made efforts to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair, efficient and equitable for all Canadians. I think the bill would benefit from some amendments that would further its objective and improve its drafting. I note that the bill's proposed amendment to section 649 would benefit from greater clarity in terms of what was meant by “health care professional” to ensure that information being disclosed by a juror was made to a professional who was regulated and bound by the duties of confidentiality so as not to undermine the integrity of the jury secrecy rule. Moreover, as currently drafted, the English and French versions of this bill could be viewed as inconsistent. This could result in the English version being interpreted more narrowly with regard to the types of health care professionals and services covered by the exception. For example, it could exclude psychologists.
In addition, an amendment to provide for a coming into force period, such as 90 days after the day the bill received royal assent, would allow the provinces and territories some time to effectively implement the change to section 649. I believe that these amendments would be consistent with the bill's objective and would enhance its drafting.
As we debate and examine this bill, it is important to be mindful of the way in which juries contribute to justice in Canada and play an important role in upholding our Constitution. Subsection 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to a jury trial for offences carrying a maximum penalty of imprisonment of five years or more. Under the Criminal Code, certain offences, such as murder, provide for the presumption that the accused will be tried by a judge and jury. For other offences, such as sexual assault or robbery, an accused can elect to be tried by judge alone or by judge and jury.
In R. v. Davey, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada held that “the jury reflects the common sense, the values, and the conscience of the community.” In R. v. Sherratt, 1991, the jury was also described by the court as an “excellent fact finder” and a “final bulwark against oppressive laws or their enforcement” that increases societal trust in the justice system.
While jury service is an important civic duty in Canada, we know from our committee's study on juror support and its report, “Improving Support for Jurors in Canada”, that it can be both challenging and stressful for jurors. Jurors may be exposed to graphic evidence and disturbing testimony.
Throughout our committee's study, witnesses provided testimony on the significant impact jury service could have on jurors' personal lives. Some jurors indicated that following the trial, they had difficulty caring for their children and maintaining relationships. Some even reported experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder following the performance of their duties. Witnesses also identified other sources of stress that accompanied jury duty, such as financial strain, contentious deliberations and the pressure to reach a verdict.
I agree with the statement made by one witness and former juror who was selected for the Paul Bernardo trial, Ms. Tina Daenzer. She said, “Our right to trial by jury depends on the willingness of all citizens to serve, but doing so should not be at the expense of a juror’s own mental health.” It is certainly a concern that the negative experiences of some jurors may lead others to avoid jury duty, which poses challenges for courts that already struggle to obtain sufficiently large and diverse jury pools.
I recognize that the member for St. Albert—Edmonton has noted the work of the committee as providing the basis for his legislation and as such, I would like to use some of my time today to discuss the committee's work, as well as the recommendations made in its report.
The committee's report makes 11 unanimous recommendations. Seven of the recommendations fall within provincial-territorial responsibility, including, for example, increasing the compensation jurors receive for jury duty in order to reduce the financial stress that can occur for some when serving as a juror. The report also recommends that information packages be provided to prospective jurors and that jurors be offered debriefing sessions and psychological support after the trial. Moreover, the report recommends supporting training for justice system professionals on the impact of legal proceedings on jurors' mental health.
The government's response to the report was tabled on July 18, 2018. It details the government's commitment to raising the report and its recommendations with the provinces and territories and to encouraging discussions on ways in which jurors can be better supported across the country. I understand that this has been done and that federal, provincial and territorial officials continue to engage on jury-related issues. The government's response also sets out its commitment to explore funding and to examine section 649 with provincial and territorial partners. Our committee's recommendations have rightly recognized the important role that the provinces and territories play in this area.
With respect to matters within federal jurisdiction, federal responsibility over the criminal law includes procedure in criminal matters. Part XX of the Criminal Code sets out the procedural rules regulating jury trials and jury selection, as well as the offence of disclosing information relating to jury proceedings in section 649. Provincial and territorial legislatures enact laws relating to the establishment of juries for civil, criminal and other proceedings such as coroners' inquests. Their legislation also provides the basis for identifying possible jurors from the community, the grounds upon which a person is ineligible for jury membership and juror compensation.
The issue of juror support generally falls within provincial-territorial jurisdiction given their responsibility for the administration of justice. Thus, it is very encouraging that several provinces and territories have established psychological support programs for jurors. This allows jurors to access a certain number of free counselling sessions in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon.
I strongly believe that supporting jurors is vital for the individual jurors themselves, but also for the legal proceedings in which the jurors are involved and the administration of justice more broadly. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of this debate today.