Ex-juror to bring 12 angry letters to Ottawa make case for trauma support

Ex-juror pushes for post-trial trauma support

OTTAWA — Mark Farrant, 44, remembers going through a routine whenever it was time to leave the house.

He would grab his keys and his cellphone, put on his jacket and then slip a knife down the back of his jeans.

One day, Farrant says, his young daughter looked up at him.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” Farrant recalls her asking.

He knows now it had something to do with his losing an unhealthy amount of weight, his aversion to raw meat, his choice to keep a nightly vigil in the bedroom of his four-year-old daughter and his withdrawal from his friends and family.

He knows it was connected to that time he stood in the hallway, staring at the red hand print — a finger-painting mishap — his daughter had left on the wall.

It reminded him of the images of bloody hand prints on the wall he had seen in photographs shown as evidence in a courtroom.

The Toronto man spent five months on the jury at the trial of Farshad Badakhshan, who was convicted in 2014 of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, Carina Petrache, a 23-year-old student at Ryerson University. Badakhshan committed suicide in jail before his sentencing hearing.

It took a while for Farrant, a father of two, to realize he needed help.

It also took a while to get it.

Now living with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, Farrant has made it his mission to make sure other jurors who need counselling and other mental health support to cope with the aftermath of their civic duty are not left, like he was, calling the courthouse and being told there was nothing anyone there could do.

After having successfully advocated for a new jury support program in Ontario, Farrant is taking his fight to Parliament Hill.

He wants the federal government to develop a national standard to ensure any juror in any province or territory has access to the same level of support.

He says there is more awareness of the effects of trauma on first responders, but there needs to be recognition that jurors can suffer too.

“We’re part of the same system and we require the same level of care and support,” he says.

There is a patchwork of programs across the country, with some provinces having nothing at all.

The Ontario government launched a new program this year offering up to four free, one-hour counselling sessions  to anyone who sat on the jury for a trial or inquest.

In Manitoba, jurors receive pamphlets going over the signs of trauma-related stress and there is a formal debriefing program led by a professional therapist trained in post-traumatic stress disorder for particularly difficult trials.

In B.C., according to a letter sent to Farrant, clinical counselling is provided if at least six jurors from the same trial ask for help.

Eight years ago, a steering committee advising the federal justice department addressed psychological care in its report on jury reform, but said that with little Canadian research on the impacts or the effectiveness of debrieing programs, it would be premature to make any recommendations.

After writing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the issue last year, Farrant received a reply from Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

She expressed sympathy for his ordeal, but suggested there is little she could do.

“The minister recognizes the important role and dedicated service of jurors in the Canadian justice system and she is always open to input on this issue. The administration of justice is a shared responsibility, but this particular area falls under provincial and territorial control,” her spokesman, David Taylor, wrote in an email last week to confirm her position has not changed.

Farrant says he is not giving up.

He has been reaching out to other former jurors who sat through difficult trials, many of them angry at the trouble they had finding support.

He wants to bring letters from 12 of them — one for each spot on a jury — to Wilson-Raybould when he travels to Ottawa some time this spring.

Taylor said either the minister or her senior officials will meet him.

He is also expected to appear before the House of Commons health committee as it studies a private member’s bill that, if passed, would have the federal government develop a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Conservative MP Todd Doherty says he is “ashamed” he did not consider the plight of jurors when he originally drafted the proposed legislation known as Bill C-211, but he has been in touch with Farrant and hopes his story helps move things forward.

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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