Serving on a jury is a civil responsibility. A jury summons is not an invitation nor is it a mere option to volunteer to be a juror. It cannot simply be ignored. It is a court order with consequences for disobedience. If you are selected as a juror in Ontario, you are expected to leave your family and workplace for long hours each day, while being paid nothing for the first 10 days and $40.00 a day for the next 39. There is no compensation for child care or travel expenses if you live in the same city where the courthouse is located. Unlike American jurors, Canadian jurors are prohibited by law from discussing information related to jury proceedings that were not made public in court.
If that is not enough, sometimes the Jury has to hear gruesome and devastating evidence. Just being exposed to evidence related to death or serious bodily harm can produce post-traumatic stress in jurors, even though they weren’t personally involved in the event. This can lead to ongoing psychological problems.
To help jurors cope with the traumatic consequences, the Ontario government is launching a new program that will provide free, easily accessible counselling services to anyone serving jury duty. In the new year, jurors can call a designated phone number and get help whenever they need it. The CBC reports that the Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said “Jurors in difficult trials do face evidence that could be quite horrific, and we’ve heard those stories.” He further said, “It’s only appropriate that we provide appropriate services.”
The Ministry of the Attorney General recently agreed to contribute to therapy costs for a juror who suffered PTSD as a result of her role in the jury of the murder trial for eight-year-old Tori Stafford. The juror previously applied for compensation with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, who dismissed the application through the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act. The Board argued that the juror did not meet their criteria for a “nervous shock claim,” and that she was too far from the crime in relation, location and time to qualify.
“It’s a convergence of the media and the legal system bringing attention and shining a bright light on what the problem is and how it might have to be addressed.”
Lawyer for juror referenced above,
Past President of OTLA
Under the current system, jurors must get a trial judge’s permission to receive monetary support for counselling. Jurors who pursue counselling on their own have to pay for it themselves. Naqvi says he has heard “loud and clear” that this model simply isn’t working.
Under the new program, jurors can access government-funded counselling following a criminal trial, civil trial, or an inquest. The program is under development and the government is still determining who will be providing the counselling and what kind of counselling will be provided.
This new plan for jurors is expected to begin in January 2017.