Jurors as conscripts: Four things to know if you’re summoned to serve

Jurors as conscripts: Four things to know if you’re summoned to serve

Jurors convicted Curtis Healy of first-degree murder this fall after hearing a brutal account of how he raped and beat Dawns Baptiste, a Calgary mother of four, before killing her with a rock to her head. Healy is appealing, in part, because the judge didn’t declare a mistrial after it was revealed some jurors had had drinks in their hotel’s restaurant even though they were already sequestered. Hockey highlights were on TV, other people were present and a server took their orders.

Here are four things to know if you’re chosen to serve on a jury:

Outside contact is strictly limited while deliberating

While evidence is being presented, jurors are free to go about their lives once each day is done. They are told to disregard anything they may see or hear about the case outside court. But once they’re deliberating, they are cut off from the general public. If the day ends without a verdict, they are put up in a hotel with no access to internet, phones or television.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Charlene Anderson called the restaurant visit inappropriate, but denied Healy’s mistrial application. There was no evidence the jurors had said, seen or heard anything about the case.

University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach says a 24-hour news cycle and social media complicate things.

“We’re asking a lot of our jurors, both during the trial and of course while they’re sequestered, to really blind themselves to this information age that we live in.”

Deliberations are secret

It’s a criminal offence — with a couple of exceptions — for jurors to ever disclose what was said during deliberations. They can never explain why they came to the decision they did, which makes it impossible for academics like Roach to interview them for research.

Toronto lawyer Allan Rouben says he appreciates the rationale behind the ban, but wants more leeway.

“Courts are worried that it will have a chilling effect on the fulsome debate that should occur within a jury room.”

Rouben says there are ways to handle that such as requiring jurors to remain anonymous and making clear they’re under no obligation to speak out.

He says allowing jurors to speak out would be especially beneficial in cases where they rendered a controversial verdict such as the acquittal of a Saskatchewan farmer in the fatal shooting death of an Indigenous man.

“The benefits of jury communication outweigh the costs.”

There are mental health considerations

Mark Farrant developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving as jury foreman in a gruesome 2014 murder trial. He couldn’t sleep and withdrew from loved ones.

“I wasn’t able to partition the court experience and those images from my day-to-day life.”

The Toronto man says he was unable to get mental-health support from the courts after his jury duty. When he sought out a counsellor himself, he had trouble finding someone to take him on because of the secrecy rule.

A private member’s bill that has passed first reading in the House of Commons would amend the Criminal Code to allow jurors to speak freely to a health-care professional.

Some provinces offer support to jurors, but a Commons committee in May recommended a national approach. It also recommended jurors be given an information packet on how to cope with stress and go through debriefing sessions afterwards.

“We don’t conscript Canadians for the military anymore,” Farrant says. ”We do really conscript you for jury duty and it’s an enormous public service and integral to our justice system.”

Compensation varies

The Commons committee encouraged provinces and territories to give jurors a daily allowance of at least $120.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, workers must get their usual wages during jury duty. Everywhere else, it’s up to employers.

The current daily stipend varies wildly across the country. It’s $50 in Alberta. In Ontario, a $40-a-day allowance only kicks in on the 11th day. Quebecers get $103 a day until Day 57, when it rises to $160. There is also reimbursement in Quebec for mileage, parking and meals and, on a judge’s order, child care and counselling can be covered.

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