POLITICS
04/21/2019 10:03 EDT | Updated 04/22/2019 13:39 EDT

Ex-Juror With PTSD Lauds MPs For Uniting On Bill To Ease Secrecy Rule

Mark Farrant says Bill C-417 will help others in his shoes.

Galit Rodan/CP
Mark Farrant poses for a photo in Toronto on Feb. 25, 2017. 

Mark Farrant asked himself a natural question after he was summoned for jury duty.

How am I going to get out of this?

It's the same thought that dogged him long after the 2014 trial wrapped with a guilty verdict in the murder of a young woman, when the darkness of that experience followed him home.

The heinous things he'd seen rented such space in his mind that Farrant soon found himself keeping a vigil at the feet of his sleeping children. He started slipping a knife in his pocket when he took them to play at a park, just in case. He pulled away from the people who most loved him and knew something was terribly wrong.

Farrant was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In another of life's strange twists, he has become a champion for former jurors who, like him, were parachuted into circumstances they couldn't have imagined.

His advocacy helped spark a private member's bill that will allow ex-jurors suffering as a result of their service to discuss all aspects of a gruelling criminal trial with a mental health professional. The bill cleared the House of Commons earlier this month with unanimous support.

'All I could see in front of me were those images'

Farrant, 46, lives in Toronto and works in market research. He served more than four months as the jury foreman at the trial of Farshad Badakhshan, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of 23-year-old Ryerson University student Carina Petrache. Badakhshan later died by suicide behind bars while awaiting sentencing.

Jurors learned how Petrache was stabbed multiple times and had her throat slashed, how her body was burned in the rooming house apartment she shared with Badakhshan. They saw dozens of autopsy photos and listened intently to in-depth descriptions of wounds and the testimony of first responders.

Unable to turn away, Farrant says he became an emotional zombie. In time, the warm man his wife and three-year-old daughter knew slipped away.

"All I could see in front of me were those images," he said. "And they weren't going away."

Farrant thought those feelings would subside after he left the courthouse on the April day the verdict was delivered. Instead, they intensified.

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The birth of his second child, a boy who arrived about a month after the trial concluded, was joyless for him. A red finger painting from his little girl sent his thoughts back to a crime scene.

"I was so twisted by what was happening to me in my mind," he said. "I'm getting better and I'm slowly repairing those relationships."

Farrant was stunned to learn that, at the time, mental health supports were not routinely available in Ontario for former jurors struggling to cope after a trial.

He successfully pushed the province to bring about changes that give ex-jurors up to eight free counselling sessions, something he says still doesn't go far enough. Farrant is suing the federal and Ontario governments for $100,000, arguing they violated a duty of care owed to him.

Before receiving treatment for PTSD, Farrant found that many clinicians refused to take him on precisely because of his jury service.

Section 649 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it a summary offence for a juror to discuss any aspect of closed-door jury deliberations to anyone, even a mental health professional.

Frank Gunn/CP
Former Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi (right) listens as Mark Farrant speaks at the announcement of a juror support program in Hamilton, Ont. of the on Jan. 31, 2017.

The so-called jury secrecy rule protects the sanctity of frank discussions in the jury room. It also ensures jurors can't capitalize on their experiences with the kinds of tell-all books sometimes hawked in the United States after a big trial.

The time jurors spend deliberating over evidence and deciding the fate of an accused is often the most stressful part of a criminal trial, Farrant says. Though he was only sequestered for five days, others spend weeks with 11 strangers, poring over evidence.

"Jurors feel an enormous sense of ownership, obviously, because the entire trial experience is leading up to that moment. And they also feel an enormous sense of guilt (when) their belief or sense of justice is not being served."

In 2017, Farrant led a campaign to push the federal government to develop a national standard of post-trial mental health supports for jurors, instead of a patchwork of systems from province to province. It helped get the attention of the House justice committee, which undertook a study on supporting jurors at the urging of NDP MP Alistair MacGregor.

Farrant and others later testified before MPs about the lasting scars of a gruesome trial.

Watch:

Tina Daenzer, who sat on the jury that convicted serial killer Paul Bernardo in 1995, asked the committee to imagine having to watch young girls being raped and tortured on video each day.

"You couldn't close your eyes and you couldn't look away because your duty was to watch the evidence," she told the group, adding that she went home most days in a fog and still has an extreme distrust of strangers.

Feelings of remorse surface even when the decision might seem obvious, she said.

"You've seen the evidence and you've decided that the person is guilty, but... you are still sending that person to federal prison for the rest of their life," she said. "You shouldn't feel guilty, but somewhere deep down you still do."

Scott Glew, who served on a murder trial involving a two-and-a-half year-old boy, said he worries to this day that someone, somewhere will hurt his children.

"I am super vigilant and accused of being way too overprotective, but knowing what I know, I cannot be too careful with who looks after my kids," he told the committee.

In May 2018, the committee released an unanimous report with 11 recommendations, including that the federal government push provinces and territories to offer all jurors psychological support and counselling after their service ends.

The MPs also said the Criminal Code should be amended to allow jurors to discuss deliberations for therapeutic reasons in a strictly confidential setting. Canada should follow the lead of the Australian state of Victoria, the report noted, where making that allowance has not disrupted the confidential nature of deliberations.

Tory MP says his bill is a 'no-brainer'

Conservative MP Michael Cooper picked up the ball and ran with it, drafting a straightforward bill, C-417, to carve out a narrow exception to the jury secrecy rule in the Criminal Code.

Private member's bills don't often become law, but are generally considered free votes. It falls to the MP behind the proposed legislation to lobby colleagues across the aisle, something that might have seemed at the outset to be a tough sell for Cooper.

An Alberta lawyer who was first elected in 2015, Cooper is an enthusiastically partisan MP. On any given question period, you might hear House Speaker Geoff Regan admonish the "member for St. Albert-Edmonton" for heckling Liberals. On this issue, he has the full support of the government.

Cooper says he thought long and hard about what the possible counterargument to his bill might be. He couldn't think of a single one.

The change is a "no-brainer," he says, that will clear up confusion over what jurors can say to a mental health professional and encourage more to seek help if they need it.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Conservative MP Michael Cooper rises during question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 6, 2016.

Cooper credits NDP MP Murray Rankin for seconding his bill and Grit MP Anthony Housefather, the chair of the justice committee, for convincing Justice Minister David Lametti to get on board.

It might feel like the way politics is supposed to work. An issue is raised, a study is done, a meticulous report is released and, rather than allowing it to collect dust, an MP moves to bring about changes that are widely accepted.

But the bill has moved through Parliament during a particularly partisan time, in large part due to the SNC-Lavalin affair that has rocked the Liberal government.

At a closely-watched emergency meeting of the justice committee in February, when opposition MPs first pushed to have former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testify, Cooper threw down the gauntlet.

Anyone who voted against the opposition demands, he said at the time, was "voting for a coverup."

"That statement is unbecoming of you, Mr. Cooper," Housefather shot back.

Housefather told HuffPost that the intensity of the SNC-Lavalin hearings was atypical for a committee that has quietly worked well together for more than three years. All of the group's reports, exploring topics ranging from human trafficking to legal aid, have been unanimous.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Anthony Housefather, chair of the House of Commons justice cimmittee, waits to start a committee meeting in Ottawa on March 13, 2019.

"The SNC-Lavalin thing was an exceptional time, but mostly the way we've worked together has been collegially," Housefather said.

Cooper has done a "very good thing" with his bill, Housefather said, adding that C-417 is on pace to pass into law before Parliament breaks for the summer and the fall election campaign begins in earnest.

"When we speak to one another, we're able to find consensus," he said. "Canadian politics should be more like that, if it were possible."

Cooper says sharp differences over the SNC-Lavalin issue haven't impeded the justice committee's ability to get things done.

"I think it speaks to the fact that we, as a committee, have been able to work together to find common ground on some practical things that can make a difference in people's lives," Cooper said. "And I think this is a perfect example of that."

The multi-party support for Cooper's bill — "even in the climate that we're sitting in" — is something to be applauded, Farrant says.

In his mind, jury service is the most important civic duty remaining in Canada.

"We don't conscript for the military anymore, but we conscript for jury duty."

Farrant was in Ottawa almost two weeks ago for a national conference on PTSD. He watched from the House gallery as C-417 cleared third reading. It's now off to the Senate for further study and debate.

Farrant celebrated that day by taking to social media, posting photos with MPs of different partisan stripes, including Cooper and Housefather.

Another shot shows him standing alone on green floor of the Commons, the bright lights of the place illuminating a subtle smile on his face.

"This has been an incredible journey," he later wrote.

Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit CAMH's resource to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you're worried about.