A Miscarriages of Justice Commission


“This can happen to you” David Milgaard told us early and often throughout these consultations. His words echoed in our heads as we heard from experts in our roundtables and through written submissions. Our very first roundtables were with Mr. Milgaard and other wrongfully convicted individuals: Rob Baltovich, Ron Dalton, Réjean Hinse, Tammy Marquardt, Maria Shepherd, Sherry Sherrett-Robinson, Wade Skiffington, Glen Assoun, Brian Anderson, Chris Bates, Michel Dumont, Anthony Hanemaayer, Joyce Hayman, Dinesh Kumar and A.J. Woodhouse.

As judges, we spent many years listening to the horrific and heart-breaking impacts of crime on its victims. Still, what the wrongfully convicted told was different and profoundly sad. Like many Canadians, we had not given much thought to what happened to people who had been locked up, not just when they were in prison but later, when they were released and exonerated. Ron Dalton and others told us that being released from prison was in many ways worse than being in prison, especially if they had not yet been exonerated. They continued to be bound by restrictive bail conditions, without even the minimal support and services available to prisoners out on parole. As convicted criminals, it was impossible to find work. We heard from people who, decades after being released, told us they had never recovered. We heard about the lack of trust that led to them being unable to access the government services the rest of us take for granted. One told us he would think twice about calling the police if his house was broken into.

These miscarriages of justice are usually the result of human error, in other words they are avoidable. We learned that, even after it is known that a miscarriage has occurred and the wrong person is locked up, it can take years to release them. Often the same people or agencies who contributed to the wrongful conviction are now in the position of having to admit their failure so the mistake can be reversed.

We knew we were asking a lot of this group of wrongfully convicted when we asked them to talk to us. Yet, without hesitation, they showed up, in some cases more than once. And instead of the bitter, angry people we might have expected, we were greatly moved by their generosity and openness to talk to us about their experiences, as painful as it was, in the hope that they could prevent it from happening to others.

We are deeply grateful to each of them for their contributions and we have done our best to reflect what they told us in this report and recommendations.

We also want to thank the many individuals from all parts of the criminal justice system, in Canada and internationally, who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us and provide advice and recommendations.

Many thanks are owed to our team members who worked passionately to get this work done under difficult conditions - including tight timelines and a pandemic that necessitated all the work being done through nascent and often unreliable technology.

Our team consisted of Professor Kent Roach, a leading expert in constitutional law and miscarriages of justice; Felicity Williams, a British barrister with the Garden Court Chambers, who has a particular expertise representing young and vulnerable people and knowledge of international criminal cases review commissions; Aideen Nabigon, a former senior executive in the federal public service; and Janice LaForme, a lawyer, a former crown prosecutor and Harry’s spouse who provided pro bono non legal operational support services.

Mr. Michael Wernick, past Clerk of the Privy Council helped tremendously in our understanding of machinery of government matters.

Finally, we would like to thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Justice David Lametti for having the courage to take this first step in addressing these issues. We believe fully in the principle that it is better that 10 guilty people go free than that one person be wrongfully convicted. It is our sincerest hope that Canada will do everything it can to prevent wrongful convictions.