David Milgaard spent 23 years behind bars for a heinous 1969 rape and murder in Saskatoon he had nothing to do with.
Although he’s been out of prison since 1992 — after the tireless efforts of lawyers and advocates like his mother who spent years trying to right the government’s wrong — Milgaard is still fighting for justice.
But now it’s for others like him — innocent people left in limbo in Canada’s correctional centres.
That’s what brought him, four other wrongfully-convicted men and three lawyers to speak at a conference in Winnipeg on Friday to shed light on miscarriages of justice and a proposed independent board meant to review wrongful convictions.
“The current system doesn’t work, it’s a gatekeeper on good people, good people who’ve done nothing wrong,” Milgaard said in an interview. “[The justice system is] using the rules to keep from being embarrassed and shamed when in fact these people have done no wrong and we’re going to change that.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an independent review board for wrongful convictions a campaign promise; Justice Minister David Lametti was told to start the process in his mandate letter issued in December.
James Lockyer, a prominent lawyer and activist for those wrongly convicted, has long lobbied for an impartial, independent board.
“I’ve been fighting for it for almost 30 years now. … The legislation that sets it up is going to be very important, but the idea of an independent tribunal to review claims of wrongful conviction is so important for the Canadian justice system,” Lockyer said.
“The aim of this conference is to try and help the public understand why it’s so important — and also a timely reminder to the Liberals that we’re hot on their trail to make sure they do it as soon as possible, and do it well.”
Brian Anderson, James Driskell, Frank Ostrowski and Tom Sophonow, all wrongfully convicted, and lawyers Lockyer, Greg Rodin and Gavin Wolch also spoke at the conference.
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