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October 2nd marks a peculiar international commemoration: Wrongful Conviction Day, set aside to remember men and women who were done in by a flawed criminal justice system. 

The good news is that some of these unfortunate souls have been freed. Even better news is that — as a payback for their pain and suffering — a number have picked up compensation cheques, courtesy of taxpayers. 

Governments can award apologies and money but never lost time. 

Not all those who have been wrongfully convicted have received financial compensation. Here’s a shocker: Governments have sometimes ignored court orders for compensation, effectively screwing the victim all over again. Do shenanigans like that happen in democracies like Canada, you ask?

They sure do.

Then there are those who’ll never again feel the pain of a faulty judicial system. They quietly left prison on a gurney covered by a white sheet.

For those reading this article outside Canada, you might now see my country in a whole new light. That’s not my intention. All things considered, Canada isn’t a bad place — but its criminal justice system sure could use some work.

There are far more judicial screw-ups in Canada than people care to admit. The reason is simple: Should Canadians ever face serious criminal charges, they want to believe they’ll get a fair shake. They want to believe that things are on the up-and-up.

[Photo: David Milgaard shortly after his release from prison. The former prisoner travelled to Alberta to meet with the author. He’s pictured at the author’s desk at CBC Radio, Edmonton.]


REPORTING ON PROSECUTORIAL MIS-STEPS

Know that it’s not always easy for reporters to reveal prosecutorial misconduct. It’s my belief that the mainstream media has a desperate need to protect the status quo … as if their jobs depended on it. Wait. The status quo controls corporate media. Never mind.

Peasants in the Third World will pay homage to their filthy-rich dictators. These poor bastards know their place and their place is not to challenge the status quo.

That mindset is not limited to developing countries. In the early 1990s, I was working at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] in Edmonton, and on the phone with an editor at CBC National News in Toronto. We were discussing a story about a long-serving prisoner who, in 1970, was a kid in his mid-teens when he got a life sentence for the rape and murder of a young woman.

For two decades, the ‘killer’ steadfastly maintained his innocence.

He once took off while out on a prison pass. Police looked everywhere for the guy — and when they tracked him down, they shot him in the rear end.

How did that CBC editor assess things? “Byron,” he said, “for all we know, the little fucker killed her.” Turns out, that little fucker was innocent. Ooops. He went into prison as a 16-year-old, handcuffed and shackled, but walked out a middle-aged man.

After he was finally set free, two decades later, the man — who was a basket case — got an official ‘sorry, so long and good luck’ from the Government of Canada. Thanks to widespread media attention, the falsely-convicted picked up millions of dollars in compensation for a judicial boo-boo that had seriously messed up his life.

Forever.

Today the ex-con struggles to find himself. The man, who suffers from bipolar, lost much of his settlement money playing the stock market. He also went through two busted marriages. He now ‘gives back’ by helping a disabled person.

A quarter of a century after the murder was committed, the real murderer was charged, convicted and sent packing to a federal penitentiary. In May 2015, the sex killer was wheeled out of a prison in British Columbia after losing a battle with cancer. He’ll rape and kill no more.

What’s really repugnant about that particular miscarriage of justice was that just one year after the youngster was marched off to the Big House, someone remarked to the Chief Crown Prosecutor, Serge Kujawa, “Looks like the kid didn’t do it,” to which Mr. Kujawa responded — with absolutely no concern he might have a wrongful conviction on his hands — “Fuck him!!” Nice guy, that Serge.

Mr. Crown got his wish. The system did indeed screw the teen — for more than two decades. For his professional misconduct, Mr. Kujawa was not sent to prison. He wasn’t even disciplined. Sorry, that doesn’t happen in Canada.

In a way, Kujawa was in his own prison as illustrated by the number of trips he made to liquor stores. If this son-of-a-bitch had been working in the United States, he would’ve eaten prison food for a few years. And his beverage of choice would have gone from vodka to shaving lotion.

Bureaucrats who knowingly keep innocent people behind bars are to the criminal justice system what venereal disease is to sex. Sorry for showing my bias, but that’s how I feel about these status quo ass-kissers who inflict so much pain on innocent people and their families.


MILGAARD, ETC, ETC, ETC …

Life isn’t fair. I get that. Our judicial system should be fair — but it isn’t. That I don’t get.

Some of the most terrible miscarriages of justice in Canada nearly destroyed the lives of David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall Junior and Steven Truscott, to name but four. These men were found guilty of murder and given long prison terms. Turns out, they were innocent — proof that “every now and then” the justice system screws up.

It’s a system that — like the drug dealers and thieves it has on trial from time to time — simply can’t be trusted.

Think of a flawed criminal justice system as a lottery you never want to win.

The problem is that innocent people sometimes pay for the mistakes of others … and they pay dearly.

David Milgaard and company went through judicial nightmares, as documented by the Toronto-based Innocence Canada, formerly the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, known by its acronym, AIDWYC [pronounced “aid-wick”].

What’s stunning is that the four prisoners I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. There are more wrongfully convicted victims … how many, Lord only knows. The fact that Innocence Canada exists raises some serious questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s judiciary system.

When it comes to screwed-up murder convictions, Canada’s track record can only be described as disgraceful. The official count for wonky murder convictions in this country is around two dozen.

What’s it like to be wrongfully convicted and stuck in a penitentiary for days on end? I’ve never been in that position, thank God, but here’s how I imagine it to be [please forgive me for waxing poetry here] …

Wrongly-convicted prisoners begin their day — just like the previous 60 or 6,000 days — by gripping the steel bars of their cells. They’re angry, and for good reason. They’re doing “hard time” for something they didn’t do. And although they realize the system has failed them — and others — they still cling to hope that a good lawyer or an advocacy group will find a “smoking gun” that will get them out.

They are the “living dead.” They’re so desperate they buy into any promise, real or otherwise. Beaten up by a system that has sucked the life out of them, they have become so disillusioned that they simply give up. Hapless, helpless and knowing all too well that the system protects itself — even more than bad cops and bad lawyers protect themselves — they’ve resigned to the cold realization they’ll likely die behind bars.

Perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of Canada’s judicial system is that should an innocent prisoner not make a false confession, they’re likely not getting out. Or, if they are released, it’s a lot later than what it should have been. One way or the other, they’re hooped.

In the early 90s, when I first got involved in the case of David Milgaard — brilliantly chronicled, I might add, in the post ‘Dead Man Under a Pool Table’ — a dreadful thought washed over me: Milgaard might not be alone; there could be other poor souls like him.

Could that really be, I wondered? Turns out, David Milgaard — then a convict whose prison nickname was ‘Shuffles’ — had plenty of company.

Here’s the link for ‘Dead Man Under a Pool Table’ and the Milgaard story … https://byronchristopher.org/2015/01/06/dead-man-under-a-pool-table/


7 thoughts on “Our Legal System : Proceed With Caution

  1. The Michael White case clearly must be questioned under the rules of our sacred Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Was he denied the presumption of innocence? If so, then obviously there is a Charter argument. And if there is the slightest bit of questionable evidence, Michael James White is entitled to another day in court.

    When we lose the presumption of innocence, the Charter becomes a moot point. I am a former crime reporter and in my opinion, the presumption of innocence is the most sacred guarded aspect of our Charter. It hinges on so many things that are guaranteed in this legislation — equality in application being the key point.

    The case of Michael James White — given your observations — gives serious rise to the question “Was he fucked by his lawyers; was he fucked by the system?” Has he been been proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” given the media circus and the shoddy evidence presented to a jury as uncovered in you investigation? Are we dealing with a case here of “guilty until proven innocent?”

    Tell me it ain’t so Pa that police cook evidence. Of course they do — to expedite the conclusion of a high-profile case which has drawn public attention demanding answers — compliments of what you refer to as “cop-sucking” journalism.

    Do you remember the case a number of years ago regarding a murder at an Edmonton-area warehouse in which the victim was set ablaze? The RCMP pinned it on a guy who eventually successfully sued the force and everybody’s uncle for wrongful prosecution? That case was cooked from day one.

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  2. Such a great read!

    It’s all very interesting to me because when I first heard of this occurring my suspicions were immediately that Liana’s mother had something to do with it.

    I worked with her, and she is crazy. She made me so uncomfortable being around her, I never trusted her, and I was so happy when she left on medical leave. What’s even crazier — she was a social worker at the time.

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  3. I don’t joke about that Byron, however it does concern me that it might take that long.

    So, so many things have interrupted the process already and I truly hope that nothing else gets in the
    way from here on in.

    Mike now needs to be the only priority.

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  4. Did I read this right? SEVEN years to complete a report??? If one believes someone is truly innocent, why the delay?

    This only leads to one conclusion. She knows he’s guilty!

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  5. Pingback: God, Family and Big Oil | Byron Christopher

  6. That is a disturbing article. You seem to imply that police framed Mr. White. Don’t believe it.

    What’s even more disturbing is the behaviour of the lawyer handling his appeal. Could she be on the take? Have you looked into that? How do you explain she ignored a report for 3 or 4 years?

    Does she secretly believe Mr. White is guilty?

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  7. Byron, this is a FASCINATING, well-written and articulate article. I’ve re-read it several times because I honestly thought it to be so farfetched the first time I read it.

    My second child was born in April 2005 and I remember being very hormonal and weepy for months following her birth (post partum depression-related) and two cases struck my heartstrings hard that year, and I even wrote about it in my daughter’s baby book under the “current events” section of her Hallmark “precious moments” baby book … the murder of 13-year-old Nina Courtepatte and the disappearance and murder of Liana White.

    I remember being very traumatized by what was portrayed by the media when it initially happened and during White’s trial. I remember the media almost teasing him repeatedly in reports (at least my perception of it) and it seemed so scripted. I’m not implying a cover up but it was by-the-book, always same story line repeated and it appeared to me then that there was clearly more than meets the eye.

    I was in an unhappy marriage at the time and the joke often in my house was that if I my (now ex) husband wanted to get rid of me he could pull a Michael White and seek parole in 17 years … because murder was cheaper than divorce. Clearly my ex-husband was an arrogant soul and I’m very much divorced and alive lol. I never saw the humor in that repeated saying of his.

    If the facts are what really is (as presented in this article), my heart bleeds for his family and daughter. I also bleed for Maureen Kelly as it must be awful to be in her shoes also. Lost her daughter, custody of her granddaughter, turmoil with Mike’s family (it was all in the news) and genuinely seems to believe he’s guilty. Clearly a family really ripped apart. I’ve never doubted that the Canadian justice system is flawed (my opinion of that has nothing to do with this case) and it’s a real tragedy.

    Thank you for doing an in-depth, thorough job at creating an unbiased view of this case (unbiased in my opinion.. maybe not to some). I don’t see YOU implying that the EPS framed Michael White, but if it’s exactly as you say it certainly looks that way.

    Thank you again for your work in this fascinating article. And I genuinely wish well and justice to Michael White and his family, and justice as well for Liana. If he’s not guilty then that obviously proves that a killer is still out there.

    And this crime really scared the hell out of a lot of Edmontonians, including myself.

    Take care Byron! 🙂

    Like

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