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

(File photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo to increase fees for disposal of mattresses

Current rate of $15 per unit not enough to cover recycling

A screenshot depicting the Shelly Creek watershed. The watershed itself is outlined in white and blue line in the middle signifies the creek. (Submitted photo)
Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society to conduct two projects and mail out surverys in Parksville

Vice-president: ‘I have some good news, some bad news, and some really ugly news about Shelly Creek’

(PQB News file photo)
Streetscape construction and utility upgrades on Bagshaw Street in Parksville will soon begin

Work will include the replacement and upgrading of approximately 360 metres of utilities and roadway

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read