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

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

Kimberley Alpine Resort's main chairlift will be down for at least a few more days, as the required part missed its connecting flight.
Kimberley Alpine Resort’s chairlift repair delayed

Part needed for repair missed connecting flight in Amsterdam

Kimberley has only two exits in the case of an emergency evacuation. Google Earth.
Kimberley Fire Department to work on upgrading evacuation route planning

City supports RDEK in applying for regional grant

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon's Heritage Square long-term care home has claimed seven people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Two more COVID-19 deaths at Vernon care home

Heritage Square has now lost seven people due to the outbreak

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read