The focus at the moment, as it should be, is on the discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School.
But it leads me once again to revisit the case of an indigenous man whom I believe was treated badly by our justice system more than 40 years ago and which is continuing to treat him badly to this day.
John Moore was convicted in 1978 of second-degree in the slaying of cab driver Donald Lanthier and again in a retrial in 1982.
The murder was actually committed by Gordon Stevens and Terry Hogan, ostensibly in a robbery gone bad. But there may have been a personal aspect to it in that Lanthier was dating Stevens’ former girlfriend.
Moore was not there but was convicted under a law in effect at the time that said: a person who knew or ought to have known an offence was to be committed was party to the offence.
Moore was ensnared on the basis he had been with Stevens and Hogan earlier in the day and therefore “knew or ought to have known” a robbery was going to take place.
This law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1987, the year Moore got out of prison, but it was too late to do Moore any good as criminal law is prospective, rather than retrospective, which means it operates only from now on and doesn’t affect those previously convicted.
That, as I think most of you will agree, doesn’t seem reasonable in that it allows people to continue to suffer from a penalty that could no longer be imposed.
In striking down the law, the Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction against Yvan Vaillancourt, a New Brunswicker who had participated in a robbery at a pool hall in which his accomplice shot and killed a man.
There was no evidence that Vaillancourt had been part of the killing or that he had any idea it would take place. Still, the jury found him as guilty as the accomplice who pulled the trigger.
The Supreme Court ruled Vaillancourt could not be held responsible or liable for the death since he could not have “objectively foreseen it” and it struck down the section of the Criminal Code that said any party to one crime in which another is committed “ought to have known” the probable consequences.
Ironically the Supreme Court had shot down a similar argument made by Moore’s lawyer in his appeal in 1985.
I thought Moore raised an interesting point years ago when he asked why, since he and others had been convicted under the law as it stood, weren’t prime ministers, justice ministers, police, priests, nuns, ministers and those in church hierarchies, Catholic, Anglican and United, all charged under the same law when it was in existence?
“The Canadian government and the churches ran residential schools,” he said. “These people claimed they were civilized yet they were involved in or knew about the mental, physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse of young aboriginal children.”
No penalties there, he noted.
Actually I doubt Moore, who along with both Stevens and Hogan were indigenous, would have been convicted if he had been white. In fact, he probably wouldn’t even have been charged.
Moore points to Rick Nichols, a white man who testified he was with Moore throughout the day and evening and was originally a suspect along with him. Strangely he was never charged.
Moore also can be excused for wondering why he will be on parole for the rest of his life, as is the case with all people convicted of murder, when three people who beheaded another man in this city back in 2011 do not face the same restrictions.
Eric Mearow, Ronald Mitchell and Dylan Jocko, convicted of the murder and dismembering of Wesley Hallam, had their first-degree murder charges reduced to manslaughter and as a result were sentenced to 10 years in prison Being given credit for the five years they served awaiting trial, they have been free men for about three years now as a manslaughter conviction is not accompanied by life-long parole.
Life-long parole means a person is never free, resulting in indignity after indignity. When Moore wants to travel to the Sault to see his mother he must get a travel pass from his parole officer. He must report to the police service when he arrives.
On one occasion when Moore sought and received permission to visit his mother, he was told in writing “During this period of travel you are not to board any bus providing public transportation within the city of Sault Ste. Marie. Applying for and receiving a travel pass eight months later, he was told in writing that although the previous direction was no longer in effect it would be in his best interest “to continue with the practice of not utilizing public transit when in the city of Sault Ste. Marie.”
Moore had been on parole without a problem for more than 20 years at the time and, in fact, had helped prevent a robbery at a convenience store. 10 years previous. The Sudbury Star reported that Moore, happening upon a robbery in progress, prevented two disguised criminals from leaving the convenience store with merchandise.
Several politicians have attempted to help Moore and he has had lawyers working pro bono. But none of them have gotten anywhere since no one who could do something seems to care.
You may not be able to have retrospective law but surely in a situation such as Moore’s, where no one today could be convicted under the law that holds him captive, something could be done to relieve him of the restrictions of parole.
It would be just common decency to do so.