This past October 2nd was the first annual Wrongful Conviction Day. Spearheaded by the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted (AIDWYC), the day aims to draw attention to wrongful convictions by raising public awareness. Not coincidentally, one of the worst cases of a wrongful conviction in Canada is currently making national headlines. Romeo Phillion, the longest serving Canadian inmate to have a murder conviction overturned, now faces a new challenge in his wrongful prosecution lawsuit.
The Ottawa Police Service and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General are applying to the Supreme Court to block Phillion’s lawsuit for prosecutorial misconduct. Phillion’s lawyer, David Robins, claims that this move is simply an attempt to delay proceedings in the hope that Phillion, now in his mid-70′s, passes away while the suit is appealed.
Leave has not yet been granted to hear the appeal, however, AIDWYC and other supporters and interveners are in stark opposition to the move, and believe that Phillion’s lawsuit should be heard on its merits alone.
Phillion’s case hilights one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions: false confessions. In 1972, he was convicted of second degree murder in the death of Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy, based on a confession that he recanted almost immediately. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and astonishingly, refused to seek parole as he believed that would amount to an admission of guilt. He ultimately spent 31 years in prison.
After years of attempted appeals, the Federal Government finally referred the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2009, where his conviction was quashed and a new trial ordered. As part of its review, the Court found that police had initially verified an alibi that proved Phillion’s innocence. However, this was never disclosed to the defence, as some investigators at the time felt that it was likely untrue. Following that decision, the Crown withdrew the murder charge on the basis that too much time had passed since the original trial, and there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction.
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