CALGARY — Mark Farrant has a good idea of what jurors are going through after they sat through a recent triple-murder trial's disturbing testimony about how the victims were killed and disposed of.
Farrant, who is from Toronto, spent five months at the 2014 trial of Farshad Badakhshan, who was ultimately convicted of murdering his 23-year-old girlfriend, Carina Petrache.
Farrant was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has become an outspoken advocate for the need to provide counselling for jurors hearing horrific cases.
"One of the burdens of being a juror is the isolation you have," Farrant said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"A juror is the best judge of their own mental health and their own state," he said. "With some jurors it may take longer if they're feeling negative impacts."
Farrant said when his jury duty was over, he felt partially relieved and as if he had just walked out of a vacuum. He expected there would be some sort of debrief from the court: orders on what he could discuss or a list of counsellors available to help him cope. But that didn't happen.
Nobody should be forced to suffer in silence, he said.
"If they're feeling like they need to talk to somebody after the trial has concluded, there shouldn't be any negativity about that. They shouldn't feel like it's a continued burden for them, like it's their job to feel and just hold those emotions inside," Farrant said.
"Some people might feel ...it's their burden to suffer alongside with the families. That's not the case."
Jurors in Calgary who recently convicted Douglas Garland of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of a couple and their five-year-old grandson were subjected to evidence that included graphic and gruesome photos, videos and exhibits which prompted the judge to express concern about the stress they were put under.
"High-profile cases like this one have doubtless involved additional sources of stress due to the length of the trial, the significant media and public interest in this case and, most particularly, the disturbing evidence that was introduced," Justice David Gates told the jury after testimony had ended.
"Symptoms of stress may appear as any number of physical and psychological reactions, including increased anxiety and frustration, disruption to sleep and eating routines, depression, withdrawal, anger and even hostility."
The Ontario government last month launched a free counselling service for jurors. The support program is available at the end of a trial or a coroner's inquest if jurors need it. It notes that evidence and testimony a jury may have to consider can be graphic, traumatic or violent in nature.
"Distress, depression, changes in sleep patterns, appetite, energy, focus, concentration. All of those symptoms could very easily be a part of a person's response to very disturbing material," said Dr. Scott Patten, a psychiatrist and professor with the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.
"That's great to hear the judge was cognizant of those problems," Patten said. "In the past there's been an interest in trying to offer supports or debriefing strategies that might prevent that.
"Those who do need help, it's best if it comes from their own seeking of it."
Patten said the chance of a juror developing PTSD is rare, but it can happen if the individual has undergone some sort of traumatic experience earlier in life.
The head of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary said his profession isn't immune either.
"It absolutely does affect lawyers — hardened or not — (just) as it can affect any other observer or someone present in the courtroom during an extended, difficult trial like that," said Ian Savage.
"There can't be any real doubt that it cumulatively can affect a person like a lawyer or judge who are exposed to it over time."
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press