Ju­rors de­serve more sup­port

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Cheryl Stepan

It was a trial that lasted four-and-a-half months. For that en­tire time, ju­rors put their lives on hold to lis­ten, day af­ter day, to heart­break­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing and grue­some tes­ti­mony about two mur­der­ers who shot and killed a young fa­ther and then burned his body.

Like many peo­ple, you may have watched the Tim Bosma mur­der trial un­fold. But you watched from a dis­tance. Un­like ju­rors, you were not in the room day af­ter day with the killers with no choice but to lis­ten to the graphic tes­ti­mony. That was their duty, they were com­pelled by the gov­ern­ment. They were do­ing it for very lit­tle com­pen­sa­tion, not by choice but be­cause they were cho­sen at ran­dom for the re­spon­si­bil­ity. They did not have any par­tic­u­lar train­ing for the task.

And they were do­ing it with no emo­tional or psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port. They couldn’t even speak to their families about the crush­ing weight of the pro­ceed­ings.

The Spec­ta­tor’s Molly Hayes re­cently talked to one of those ju­rors, a 55-year-old woman who sat through the trial but was ex­cused for a fam­ily obli­ga­tion just be­fore de­lib­er­a­tions be­gan. The woman de­scribed how hard it was to tran­si­tion back to nor­mal life with­out any sup­port. “You’re re­ally on your own … ex­cept for the other peo­ple on the jury,” she said.

Un­for­tu­nately, coun­selling is made avail­able to ju­rors only when or­dered by a judge. Why is it not read­ily avail­able to any ju­ror who feels he or she needs it ei­ther dur­ing or af­ter the trial?

Al­though ju­ries fall un­der pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion, fed­eral NDP jus­tice critic Mur­ray Rankin said this fall he is go­ing to ask the Com­mit­tee of the House of Com­mons to study the is­sue. He said he be­came aware of the need af­ter be­ing con­tacted by a ju­ror suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der af­ter serv­ing on a jury for a first-de­gree mur­der trial. We ap­plaud his ef­fort and hope it pro­duces re­sults.

So far, no par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee has stud­ied the is­sue, nor have any bills been in­tro­duced to fix the lack of sup­port for ju­rors. In 2009, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice rec­og­nized a need, but did not act on it, say­ing more stud­ies needed to be con­ducted.

It’s doubt­ful more stud­ies are needed, but if that’s the case, it’s time to get mov­ing. Get the stud­ies done now so we can get the help in place to pre­vent fur­ther suf­fer­ing among ju­rors.

There is in­creased aware­ness around post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der in first re­spon­ders and other law en­force­ment pro­fes­sion­als, and in­creased aware­ness about the need for emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­ports. Why would this not ex­tend to ju­rors who have to bear wit­ness to and de­lib­er­ate on the most de­praved acts imag­in­able?

We owe ju­rors more than just a thank you. We owe them the sup­port they need to put the scars of the trial be­hind them.

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