- Written by Nina Grossman Nina Grossman
- Published: 28 February 2017 28 February 2017
Graphic content advisory
A child’s tooth. A small, bloody hand print. A blood-splattered dumbbell. Aerial photos showing what appear to be three bodies lying face down, one notably smaller than the others.
Evidence from the Douglas Garland triple-murder trial in Calgary shocks the country. Garland was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of Calgarians Kathy and Alvin Liknes and their five-year-old grandson, Nathan O’Brien.
While most people have the choice to turn away from the horror by shutting off the radio, putting down the newspaper or closing the browser, jurors do not. There is no way to escape the gruesome details.
On the first day of the trial, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice David Gates tells the jury that some of what they would hear might be “emotionally distressing or disturbing” and that there are counselling services available to them.
Minutes later, Crown prosecutor Vicki Faulkner tells the jury that over the course of the trial, they will hear how the Calgary couple and their grandson were violently taken from their beds and killed, their bodies later incinerated.
“The bodies were never recovered,” she says.
But even without bodies, the evidence is unsettling.
The jurors hear about police finding a small tooth in the burn barrel, along with DNA on meathooks and a hacksaw recovered on the accused’s property.
Then there was the blood, found all over the Liknes Parkhill area home.
Within the first few hours of the Douglas Garland trial, jurors already heard a stomach-churning address from the Crown.
Imagine what they’ve heard since.
A juror’s trauma
Torontonian Mark Farrant doesn’t have to imagine.
In 2014, Farrant served as a jury foreman in the first degree murder trial of Farshad Badakhshan who was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, 23-year-old Carina Petrache.
Badakhshan slit Petrache’s throat, stabbed her multiple times, locked her up and set the rooming house where they both lived on fire.
“You just don’t know what you’re getting into when you receive a summons,” Farrant explains. How he saw physical evidence, autopsy photos, crime scene photos and videos, and extensive details about the victim’s wounds and final moments.
“You can’t look away from any of the evidence. You have to take it all in.”
Without any prior court experience, Farrant says he didn’t grasp the magnitude of the crime he was being exposed to until an experienced first responder took the stand as a witness.
“I think that was one of the first triggers for me in the sense that I knew that this was not an ordinary case,” Farrant explains. “I watched a seasoned fire captain cry on the stand and say that this was the worst thing he’d ever experienced.”
Farrant continued working during the four-month trial, and during short breaks he would go into the office of the media company he worked for.
“You’re sitting there in a meeting [with] mundane [tasks], and co-workers and staff, and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, ‘You people would not believe what I’ve seen.’”
Farrant didn’t yet know that his mind would be replaying scenes from the trial long after it ended.
Anguish and isolation
Trauma expert and registered psychologist Patricia Kostouros says the duration and frequency at which jurors are barraged with disturbing information is partly to blame for adverse mental health effects.
And if the jurors mentally check out, it's a disservice to the administration of justice altogether, says the associate professor of child studies at Mount Royal University.
“By bombarding jurors with material that’s really difficult, they have to dissociate or withdraw mentally from the material [and] then they really haven’t taken it all in anyway,” Kostouros explains.
Kostouros, who is an expert in “compassion fatigue”, or “secondary trauma,” says the way jurors are exposed to evidence and testimony makes them, in her opinion, survivors of first-hand trauma.
“Because they’re not listening to somebody else’s story about it,” she says. “They’re seeing the actual exhibits and testimony.”
She adds the inability to talk about or seek information during the trial can be particularly damaging to jurors.
“The way the brain works is that when we can talk about something, we can process it,” she says. “And when we give language to something, it helps us understand it and so when we’re not putting language to it or we’re not able to talk about it, then we could end up just looping with the same [information] over and over again.”
Kostouros says this is one way post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD develops.
Farrant agrees, adding isolation took a significant toll on his mental health during the trial, especially when he couldn’t discuss anything trial related with his wife or friends.
It took some time before Farrant realized that he needed to get help.
“I wasn’t calling friends, I wasn’t going out, I wasn’t eating. I was seeing constant flashbacks,” he says. “Every social interaction I would have, I would have these flashbacks and these hounding images.”
Farrant wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD until a year after the trial ended.
Spotty post-trial mental health assistance
There is limited information available about post-trial counselling services for jurors in Alberta. But nationally, the province is is only one of a few that provide mental health assistance to jurors at all.
Quebec and Nova Scotia still require mental health assistance to be judge-approved and Ontario only recently launched a program that provides up to eight counselling sessions post-trial.
Even in provinces where jurors have access to counselling, there are limits to what they can disclose. Section 649 of the Canadian Criminal Code states the disclosure of information relating to jury proceedings is an offence punishable by summary conviction.
That means jurors can’t discuss anything related to jury deliberations, including their personal views on the evidence or proceedings, even to a psychologist.
A national strategy
Post-trial jury trauma has not been a big part of the national conversation about PTSD.
The slow removal of social stigma around mental illness may be behind the influx of jurors coming forward.
“[It’s] a really difficult thing to do because you’re admitting mental illness,” Farrant says, adding that he went to the media as a last resort when he realized that the Ontario justice system would not be helping him overcome PTSD.
Years have passed since Farrant served as a juror. While he still suffers from PTSD and sees a psychologist once a week, his experience has motivated him to become an activist, and is now one of the loudest voices advocating for post-trial mental health services for jurors across the country.
On Jan. 31, Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced the Juror Support Program, which will offer up to eight free counselling sessions for Ontario jurors post-trial. In his announcement, Naqvi thanked Farrant for bringing the issue to his attention.
But Farrant wants to see progress in all provinces. He says he’s contacted every attorney general in the country and is advocating for jurors to be added to the recent proposal to Parliament for a national strategy on PTSD and stress injuries.
As it stands, the report advocates building a federal framework that would ensure assessment, treatment and long-term care for first responders and public safety officers impacted by “operational stress injuries.”
Farrant says jurors' fulfillment of an involuntary civic duty—the only form of Canadian conscription— must be recognized.
“Including jurors [in the national PTSD and stress injuries framework] ensures that we respect the role that our citizens play directly in justice and the civic duty that they not just provide [but] answer,” he says.
After an eight and a half hour jury deliberation, Douglas Garland was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder on Feb. 16, 2017.