As you know from previous columns, I support the stand former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould took in backing the decision by the independent public prosecutor to lay charges against SNC-Lavalin, despite what she perceived as intense pressure from the prime minister’s office to force her to have the charges dropped in favour of a remediation agreement.
I firmly believe those in the PMO applying the pressure were out of line as they were going where no one should ever go, attempting to interfere with the justice system.
However, this is not to say that I am in full agreement with how Wilson-Raybould did her job in general and I will present what I see as shortcomings in this regard in two cases.
The Halifax Examiner reported in March that Wilson-Raybould sat for 18 months on the findings of the justice department’s criminal conviction review group, which recommended that a new trial be ordered for a man who had spent almost 17 years in prison, followed by four and a half years under strict parole conditions, for a murder he didn’t commit.
Yet it took David Lametti only seven weeks after taking over from Wilson-Raybould, whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had demoted to veterans affairs, to order a new trial for Glenn Assoun.
The following day, after a five-minute new trial in which the prosecution presented no evidence, Assoun was a free man.
Wilson-Raybould in a Canadian Press story did not confirm or deny a lengthy delay in dealing with Assoun’s case but suggested it was just one of many wrongful conviction cases that landed on her desk.
“It would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment on specific cases or applications made under the criminal conviction review process. These applications are necessarily confidential in nature,” she said.
“As minister I took potential wrongful conviction matters incredibly seriously. In order to deal with all such applications more thoroughly, effectively, and impartially, I appointed the Honourable Mr. Justice Morris Fish (a former Supreme Court justice) as special adviser on wrongful convictions in early December 2018. His role was designed to advise me – as minister – on applications under the criminal convictions review process, of which there were many.”
I am not sure what she was getting at with this statement. I don’t know whether or not she was blaming Fish for not doing his job, but one thing was clear – she wasn’t about to take on any blame herself for the delay in making Assoun a free man.
Lametti said that upon investigation he was “satisfied there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”
Now some might say what was the rush, since Assoun was no longer in prison but was on parole.
Well, just ask John Moore, who has been on parole for more than 30 years, if you want to know how that goes.
Moore, who was convicted of second degree murder back in 1978 even though he was nowhere near the scene when the murder was committed, has been on parole for more than 30 years.
Being on parole does not mean you are a free man. It is more like being on the end of a string that can be pulled in tight at any moment.
For instance, Moore lives in Sudbury; his mother lives in the Sault. If he wants to visit her he has to apply to his parole officer five days in advance.
In a letter from his parole officer in regard to one such visit in 2010, he was told that “during this period of travel you are not to board any bus providing public transportation within the city of Sault Ste. Marie.”
In a letter the following year, the parole officer said the letter of the previous year was no longer in effect but advised Moore that “it would be in your best interest to continue with the practice of not utilizing public transit when in the city of Sault Ste. Marie.”
To prevent him from using public transit is crazy.
At one point out of the blue Moore was forced to provide a DNA sample.
Cab driver Donald Lanthier was robbed and murdered by Gordon Stevens and Terry Hogan in a ravine on Third Line in 1978.
Moore, who was not present, was convicted on the basis of a law that essentially said he “ought to have known” something was going to happen as he was with the two earlier in the day. His brother-in-law was there too but he escaped charges, allegedly because he was white. The other three were native.
Actually, no one can be convicted under the law today because it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1985. Yvan Vaillancourt and an accomplice were robbing a pool hall when the accomplice shot and killed a person. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the basis that Vaillancourt was not responsible or liable for the death since he “could not have objectively foreseen it.”
One would think that with this decision on the books, essentially saying that laws can’t be based on assumptions, that it would be easy for Moore to get his conviction off his back, especially since three years before the Vaillancourt case Moore had appealed to the Supreme Court on the same basis only to have his argument rejected.
But it isn’t easy.
Being an indigenous person, he got some hope when Wilson-Raybould, who is also indigenous, became attorney general.
He wrote to her in 2016 and 2017. Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, wrote to her in March 2018 on Moore’s behalf, asking that she look into the possibility of suspending his record.
Hughes’s letter elicited a reply from Wilson-Raybould directly to Moore in September 2018.
She essentially said as attorney general she is not able to provide legal advice to members of the public or to become involved in the situation he described.
“If you believe that a miscarriage of justice has occurred in your case or that you may have been wrongfully convicted, you may apply for a ministerial review,” she said in her letter. As minister of justice, I am responsible for such reviews which can only be conducted after a person has exhausted all rights of appeal.”
I don’t think the then attorney general could have bothered to read Moore’s letters or she would have seen the line in which he asked her to review the facts of his case.
She might even have taken note that an all-white jury was not exactly a jury of his peers.
Moore would like to clear his name but he would be willing to accept anything that would get him out from under the onerous restrictions of his parole.
I don’t think that is too much to ask.
And if Wilson-Raybould had been doing her job it should have been done.
As it stands, Moore is now left hoping the new guy, who moved so quickly on Assoun’s case, might actually get around to looking at his.