Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 25, 2020. A new independent panel that would review claims of wrongful convictions is edging toward reality, as the Liberal government moves forward on one of its campaign promises. Signs of progress toward creating such a board came last week in Ottawa, where Justice Minister David Lametti met with a working group that includes David Milgaard, who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 25, 2020. A new independent panel that would review claims of wrongful convictions is edging toward reality, as the Liberal government moves forward on one of its campaign promises. Signs of progress toward creating such a board came last week in Ottawa, where Justice Minister David Lametti met with a working group that includes David Milgaard, who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Creation of wrongful conviction review board edging closer to reality in Canada

Signs of progress toward creating such a board came last week in Ottawa

A new independent panel that would review claims of wrongful convictions is edging toward reality, as the Liberal government moves forward on one of its campaign promises.

Signs of progress toward creating such a board came last week in Ottawa, where Justice Minister David Lametti met with a working group that includes David Milgaard, who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

“I very much appreciate the insight and guidance provided by the working group during our meeting,” Lametti said in a statement to The Canadian Press. “It is important for me to hear directly from experts and stakeholders to determine the path forward on this important commitment.”

While Canada enjoys a robust criminal justice system, mistakes do happen. The current remedy lies in a ministerial review process in which only the most obvious system failures are referred back to the courts for a final decision.

READ MORE: Wrongful conviction award for B.C. man capped at $8 million

James Lockyer, a prominent lawyer who chairs the working group, said other countries have an independent commission on which a Canadian version should be modelled.

“The potential for the wrongly convicted of the creating of an independent tribunal is really quite staggering,” Lockyer said. “It would be pretty revolutionary because it would put a fail-safe back end to the criminal justice system for those who’ve been wrongfully convicted, for those who’ve lost their appeals.”

Over the past four decades, the Canadian system has sent 29 cases back to the courts — roughly 0.7 cases a year — but research indicates the actual number of wrongful convictions is likely much higher. Almost all referred cases have seen convictions quashed, as ultimately happened with Milgaard.

By contrast, the British system set up 22 years ago — Scotland has its own — has referred 679 cases to the courts — about 33 a year — and led to 447 quashed convictions, according to latest figures. About one quarter are for the most serious crimes, such as murder.

While Lametti offered few details about how he envisages such a board, among key decisions he will have to make would be the test for referring cases back to the courts. Now, the minister has to be satisfied there’s a “reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”

Lockyer’s group is proposing the test be a “real possibility an Appeal Court would allow the appeal.”

Lametti once served as a law clerk to former Supreme Court justice Peter Cory, who two decades ago led a public inquiry in Manitoba into the Thomas Sophonow case. Sophonow was tried three times and wrongfully convicted twice of killing a teenager. Cory recommended creation of an independent entity to review wrongful-conviction claims.

The minister also noted he had handled the case of Glenn Assoun, a Nova Scotia man who spent 17 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murder.

“One of my first acts when I was named minister was to carefully review and ultimately order a new trial in the case of Glen Assoun,” Lametti said. “I take my responsibility in this regard very seriously.”

The government will also have to decide on the composition of a commission, although members would likely be appointed by the prime minister. Boards in other countries, for example, comprise about a dozen people, of whom one-third must have substantive legal training and at least two thirds must have experience in the criminal justice system.

The working group also wants at least two Indigenous members, an idea Lockyer said Lametti was more than open to, bilingual ability, and solid lay representation.

“More often than not, in the serious cases, it will be lay people who will have decided on guilt or innocence — the jury,” Lockyer noted.

The working group promised Lametti it would provide a detailed view in the next six to eight weeks of what it believes enabling legislation should look like.

Lockyer, who began advocating for the wrongfully convicted in 1993, said one of his key priorities has been the creation of an independent board — something that finally seems to be in the works.

“I left there feeling really good,” he said of the meeting with Lametti.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Law and justice

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Sooke Santa Run will feature their youngest members as Santas, an annual tradition for the firefighters in Sooke, East Sooke, Shirley and Otter Point. The drive-by event takes place throughout the Sooke neighbourhood on Dec. 12. (File - Sooke News Mirror)
No one outside fire hall allowed to help volunteer for Sooke Santa Run

Drive-by event takes place on Dec. 12, with goal to raise $15,000

Penny Hart is calling on the community to help find her son Sean Hart who was last seen on Nov. 6 at a health institution in Saanich. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Search spreads for Saanich man missing from mental health facility for nearly a month

Family hopeful as possible sightings reported across Island and in Vancouver

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

A West Shore man has been handed two tickets for failing to wear a mask after verbally abusing staff at a coffee shop in View Royal and gas station in Langford. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Man ticketed twice for refusing to wear mask in same day, say West Shore RCMP

Police ask businesses to report incidences when they occur

Joe Robertson and Jack Amos ran the length of Vancouver Island, with the help of their van Pippi, raising more than $12,000 for 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre. (Photo submitted)
Greater Victoria pair finishes running length of Vancouver Island a day early

Joe Robertson and Jack Amos raised more than $12,000 for single parents

(AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
POLL: Has COVID-19 changed your plans for the holidays?

The lights are going up, the stacks of presents under the tree… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 1

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are inviting audiences into their home for ‘A Celtic Family Christmas’. (Submitted)
Natalie MacMaster coming to you through Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Here’s your chance to enjoy the famed fiddler in an online show with her husband Donnell Leahy.

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Most Read