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 - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes shared this photo of the binders and binders of letters and paperwork she’s received on area roads in the past few years. (Submitted photo)
Cariboo MLAs call on province to fix region’s roads

Minister Rob Fleming said more resources were on the way to the region

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in B.C.

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

Most Read