Conviction: The AIDWYC Blog

3 11, 2015

Rest in Peace Romeo

By |November 3rd, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Rest in Peace Romeo|


With regret and deep sadness, we are mourning the sudden passing of Romeo Phillion who spent 32 years imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Romeo, who was in failing health for many years, was admitted to hospital on Sunday, November 1st and passed away at approximately 9:25 a.m. on Monday, November 2.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Romeo’s family, friends and supporters for their significant loss.

Romeo will never be forgotten for his fighting spirit, sense of humour, support of other wrongly convicted and for his boyish and captivating charm. He attended all AIDWYC functions despite having to use a scooter and having to carry oxygen with him. Romeo did what he could to draw attention to the devastation that a wrongful conviction imposes on the innocent individual and their family. We are extremely grateful to him for his commitment to make a difference regardless of his personal challenges and losses.
Services are as follows:
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Visitation, Celebration of Life and Reception
Eco life Celebration Centre: Magnolia Chapel, St. John’s Dixie Cemetery and Crematorium, 737 Dundas St. East, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, L4Y2B5
Visitation: 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Celebrating Romeo: 10:45-11:30 a.m.
Reception 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Cemetery, 1786 Bristol Road West (Streetsville), Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Burial: 1:30 – 2:00 p.m.
For more information, click here.

1 10, 2015

AIDWYC Press Release: Wrongful Conviction Day 2015

By |October 1st, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on AIDWYC Press Release: Wrongful Conviction Day 2015|

Former Canadian Football League (CFL) linebacker Orlando Bowen, a victim of police brutality and drug planting, will give the keynote address. He will be available for interviews after 6:30 p.m.

New York Exoneree, David McCallum will present the first annual Rubin Hurricane Carter Champion of Justice Award at the Reception.

The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) is hosting events in recognition of the second International Wrongful Conviction Day, October 2, 2015. The purpose of International Wrongful Conviction Day is to bring awareness to the need to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions around the world.

Media are encouraged to cover Wrongful Conviction Day. AIDWYC’s pro bono lawyers, Board Members and several Exonerees are available for interviews at or before the following events:

Continuing Professional Development Lecture: Wrongful Convictions – Who is at Risk and Why?

Law Society of Upper Canada, Lamont Learning Centre, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.


Jonathan Rudin – Program Director, Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto
Kent Roach – Professor of Law and Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy, University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Reception: Marginalized Communities and Wrongful Convictions
Law Society of Upper Canada, Convocation Hall, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Special Guests:

Orlando Bowen former Canadian Football League (CFL) linebacker, a victim of police brutality and drug planting, will give the keynote address. Mr. Bowen will speak to the devastation and horrifying consequences of a false accusation.
David McCallum exonerated in 2014 due in large part to Rubin Hurricane Carter’s advocacy. Mr. McCallum will present the first annual Rubin Hurricane Carter Champion of Justice Award to Dr. Carter posthumously.
John Artis Exoneree, co-accused and close friend of Rubin Hurricane Carter, will accept the award on Dr. Carter’s behalf.
John Honderich Chair of Torstar Corporation, will present [...]

26 08, 2015

Motherisk: Total and Unquestioned Reliance on Science with Dire Consequences

By |August 26th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Motherisk: Total and Unquestioned Reliance on Science with Dire Consequences|

Note: In April 2015 AIDWYC wrote to Ms Linda Rothstein, Lead Counsel to the Independent Reviewer of the Motherisk Hair Analysis Independent Review. Read our submissions here.

Author: Pamela Stephenson Welch H.B.Sc, Osgoode Hall Law School Student
 An innocent person was convicted of a heinous crime he did not commit. Science helped convict him.
– Justice Fred Kaufman (Retired Quebec Appeal Court Justice)[1]

The words of Justice Fred Kaufman, written in the wake of Guy Paul Morin’s wrongful conviction and exoneration, ring true for the countless men and women who have been confined to prison on the basis of science. They too ring true for the men and women whose lives have been impacted by the unquestioned reliance on the science behind the Motherisk Program.

Motherisk is a program that has been run out of Sick Kids Hospital for many years. Outside of its research projects, the focus of Motherisk was to test hair for drug and alcohol. The results of those analyses have been used as evidence in child protection and criminal cases in at least five provinces and one territory, including Ontario.[2]

What should have been a cause of concern is the fact that Motherisk is an accredited clinical lab and NOT a forensic lab.[3] What this means, is that Motherisk was not subjected to vigorous requirements and oversight, an extra precaution that would have been able to detect the faulty science behind the program.

From at least 2005 to 2010, Motherisk have been using a screening technique called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in order to test hair for cocaine.[4] This was done, even though the lab had stated that it had switched to a gold-standard technique for testing cocaine. The literature in the field of hair testing states [...]

19 08, 2015

The CSI Effect

By |August 19th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The CSI Effect|

Do TV Shows like CSI: Miami contribute to miscarriages of justice? It’s a mystery even Horatio might need a bit of help solving. (Photo: IMDb)

Author: Michael Macrae, AIDWYC Summer Fellow and University of Toronto Law Student

Disclaimer: The author has never watched any episode of CSI or similar television. All of the information presented about these shows was derived from research by the author into the so-called CSI effect.

What is CSI?

CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation, and refers to the specialized departments within modern police forces that collect and analyse remains from crime scenes. It is also the name for a television show that first aired in 2000. The show’s episodes are about the efforts of forensic scientists and technicians to solve crimes through analyzing what they find at crime scenes.[1] Common techniques resorted to include analysis of wounds, DNA analysis, and locating samples for in depth analysis.[2] Even though CSI is the most famous example of this genre, there have been and continue to be many derived shows following similar formats that are alleged to have similar effects upon jurors.[3]

What is the CSI Effect?

Broadly speaking, the CSI effect is the influence that watching CSI and similar shows has upon jurors at trials involving forensic evidence.[4]

What Forms Does the CSI Effect Take?

Given the wide variety of ways in which forensic evidence may be used and abused during trials, it is not surprising that the CSI effect can take many forms. In general, however, the CSI effect can be divided into two broad categories:

Leading Juries to Demand Forensic Evidence: In this situation, jurors will become very suspicious of claims advanced without forensic evidence to prove them, since they learn from television that forensic evidence is extremely [...]

9 07, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies, and Conviction: The Misuse and Misunderstanding of Statistical Evidence in R v Clark

By |July 9th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Lies, Damned Lies, and Conviction: The Misuse and Misunderstanding of Statistical Evidence in R v Clark|

It is now well established that bad lawyering, bad expert evidence and bad police work can contribute to wrongful convictions but do innocent people spend time in prison owing to bad math?  Photo: Diacritica (Wikipedia)

Author: Claire Horsnell, Osgoode Hall Law Student

The truism, originally attributed to nineteenth-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and popularized by Mark Twain, about there being three kinds of lies—“lies, damned lies, and statistics”—nods ironically toward the ways in which statistics can be manipulated to support a speaker’s point. However, for non-statisticians, the use of impressive-sounding numbers to support a contention can be very convincing; numbers, of course, are a fundamentally reliable way to quantify and understand the world around us. However, an error in calculation or misunderstanding—or worse, a deliberate misrepresentation of statistical evidence—in a courtroom can have dire consequences.

Probably the most notorious instance in which statistics played a part in a wrongful conviction is the British case of Sally Clark. Clark, a solicitor based in Manchester in the north of England, was not only a victim of an egregious miscarriage of justice, but also of tragic circumstances. Her first son, Christopher, was born healthy but passed away at the age of two-and-a-half months, after falling unconscious in the family home. Clark’s second son, Harry, was born two years later—and died at the age of eight weeks, after he was found unconscious, and attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Clark and her husband were arrested shortly afterward; the charges against Steve Clark were dropped, but Sally Clark faced two counts of murder. She denied the charges.

The most controversial element of Clark’s trial was the testimony by then eminent paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow. Meadow testified on the stand that the chances of [...]

8 07, 2015

Holding Authorities Accountable – Deficiencies in the Canadian Regime

By |July 8th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Holding Authorities Accountable – Deficiencies in the Canadian Regime|

Image: Former Crown Prosecutor George Dangerfield contributed to the wrongful convictions of AIDWYC Clients James Driskell, Kyle Unger and Thomas Sophonow. A fourth victim, Frank Ostrowski, awaits exoneration. To our knowledge, Dangerfield has never been held responsible for the role he played in these miscarriages of justice. For more information on Dangerfield’s role in these cases, please watch the fifth estate’s program, The Wrong Man.

Author: Lewis Fainer, University of Toronto Law Student

In an attempt to curb prosecutorial misconduct, a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal panel is taking a bold approach. In Baca v Adams, a federal prosecutor lied under oath when he claimed that a key witness had not received benefits in exchange for his testimony.[1] In recommending that Deputy District Attorney Robert Spira face perjury charges,[2] the Ninth Circuit embarked into unchartered territory.

This attempt to expand the scope of prosecutorial liability presents an opportunity to assess the Canadian approach. Much like its American counterpart, the Canadian jurisprudence concerning police and prosecutorial accountability is significantly underdeveloped.

Canadian Jurisprudence

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has held that the Crown has certain responsibilities during criminal trials and has recognized the existence of torts, which attempt to hold police and prosecutors accountable.

In R v Stinchcombe, the SCC held that Crown prosecutors have a duty to provide the defence with all evidence in their possession that could possibly be relevant to the case.[3] The requirement applies to every piece of evidence, regardless of whether or not the Crown intends to use it at trial.[4] Further, the potential value of the evidence to each side is irrelevant.[5]

While this requirement aims to ensure that criminal defendants are not unduly disadvantaged during criminal trials, the SCC has also recognized two torts [...]

22 06, 2015

John Salmon Returns to Court Today to Clear His Name

By |June 22nd, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on John Salmon Returns to Court Today to Clear His Name|



Click here to download the press release

TORONTO: The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) is pleased to announce that at 10:30 this morning, Monday, June 22, 2015, John Salmon will appear before three Judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal. He will be asking that his conviction for manslaughter in the 1970 death of Maxine Ditchfield should be quashed as a result of new medical evidence.

Mr. Salmon wants an acquittal. As the Crown has written to the Court of Appeal, “the new medical evidence removes any basis to suggest that Mr. Salmon was responsible for Maxine’s death.” The Crown is, therefore, also urging the court to acquit Mr. Salmon.

On Monday, September 21, 1970, Mr. Salmon’s common-law wife, Maxine Ditchfield, had fallen severely ill at their home in Woodstock, Ontario. Mr. Salmon called a doctor to the house who immediately arranged for an ambulance to take her to the Woodstock General Hospital. She died the next morning in hospital.

A local pathologist, Dr. Michael Dietrich, conducted an autopsy and concluded that she had died as a result of a severe beating. If this were so, Mr. Salmon was the only possible culprit.

Mr. Salmon was charged by the Woodstock police with non-capital murder on the same day that Ms. Ditchfield died. On November 5, 1971, after a trial before Mr. Justice Wright and a jury in Woodstock, Mr. Salmon was convicted of manslaughter. The jury found that he killed his wife by viciously beating her while in a drunken rage. He was sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary.

Mr. Salmon’s appeal to the Ontario Court [...]

18 06, 2015

R v Kokopenace: the Supreme Court’s missed opportunity for taking action against a regrettable status quo

By |June 18th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on R v Kokopenace: the Supreme Court’s missed opportunity for taking action against a regrettable status quo|

Do unrepresentative juries – like that painted by John Morgan in 1861 – have the potential to contribute to miscarriages of justice? 

Author: Diana Sitoianu, McGill University – Faculty of Law, 2015 AIDWYC Summer Fellow

In 2005, Ontario ranked third in terms of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in prisons across the country.[1] Aboriginal people’s current position within the criminal justice system is one of the clearest markers of what the Supreme Court of Canada has called “a crisis in the Canadian justice system.”[2]

But the overrepresentation of Aboriginal offenders is not the only symptom of the crisis spoken about by Canada’s highest court. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in R v Kokopenace,[3] the underrepresentation of Aboriginal people on jury rolls is clearly an equally important contributing factor in the estrangement of Aboriginal people from the Canadian criminal justice system.

In light of this recent Supreme Court decision, this blog post will seek to explain why jury representativeness is an important principle for the good operation of the criminal justice system. Further, it will explore how the Kokopenace decision could contribute to wrongful convictions and a furthering of Aboriginal people’s current estrangement from the justice system.

The Case

In 2008, Clifford Kokopenace, an Aboriginal man from Grassy Narrows First Nation, was convicted of manslaughter in a trial before a jury in the Superior Court in Kenora, Ontario. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the Ontario Government’s process of preparing jury rolls[4] did not adequately guarantee his right to a representative jury.

At the time of Kokopenace’s trial, Aboriginal people living on reserves made up a third of the population in the Kenora district, whereas they only made up 4.1% of the jury roll.[5] In light of this [...]

17 06, 2015

Poly-Problems? Lie Detectors and the Search for Truth

By |June 17th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Poly-Problems? Lie Detectors and the Search for Truth|

Photo: An early polygraph machine is tested for a trial in 1935 (Wikipedia)

Author: Michael Macrae, University of Toronto Law Student & AIDWYC Summer Fellow

Given the reality that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable (as previous blog posts have shown) the question arises as to whether there might be a way to bypass the need for forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts in favour of direct access to the suspects’ minds. Scientists have claimed that this can be approximated in criminal investigations with the lie detector.

Ideally, lie detectors would eliminate several uncertain aspects of criminal investigations.  Suspects would be hooked up to machines and questioned; the machines, through measurement of certain properties in the suspects’ bodies associated with lying, would be able to detect whenever the suspects lie. If successful, lie detectors would dramatically increase the efficiency and accuracy of police investigations, since less time would be spent determining whether a statement was in fact true. Unfortunately, reality is much less certain.

Canadian courts, to their credit, will not admit lie detector evidence as valid. The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Béland held so on several legal (as opposed to scientific)[1] grounds. Since judges or juries are entrusted with determining the truth of any testimony in common law courts, the majority of the court held that this role should not be replaced by an invention.[2] Furthermore, lie detectors were found to be too similar to oath-helping, the archaic and abandoned legal practice of summoning witnesses for no reason but to testify that one witness is honest.[3]

Given the decision in Béland, why talk about lie detectors? The answer is counter-intuitive. Even though Béland remains good law for the dismissal of lie detectors from [...]

16 06, 2015

The Deep Unfairness of Police Carding

By |June 16th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Deep Unfairness of Police Carding|

For years racialized Torontonians have been carded by police at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Could this discriminatory practice lead to wrongful convictions?  Photo: Benson Kua

Author: Benjamin Hanff, University of Toronto Law Student – Master of Public Policy Candidate & AIDWYC Summer Student

On June 7th, Toronto Mayor John Tory publically reversed his stance on the controversial issue of police carding.  Tory is now in favour of immediately ending the practice and plans to hold a vote on the issue this month. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Government similarly reversed itself on June 16th when it announced its intention to regulate carding across Ontario.  Eliminating carding would improve race relations in Toronto and – I will argue – reduce the number of wrongful convictions in our criminal justice system.  Hopefully, the Police Services Board will give into public pressure, eliminate carding, and replace it with an innovative street-check policy that is acceptable both to disaffected minority communities and the police.

What is carding?

The Toronto Police call it ‘community engagement.’  The Police stop, question, and document ordinary people on the street who are not suspected of having committed a crime.[1]  The collected information is kept on record for an undetermined amount of time.  The Police say the data helps them find links to associates, potential witnesses, and suspects.  The Police can use the data to obtain search warrants or enter it as evidence at trial.[2]

Carding has strained race relations in Toronto.  The Toronto Star has published data showing that the Police are three times more likely to card a black person than a white person.[3]  In some neighbourhoods the chances of the Police carding you are 17 times higher for black people than for white.[4]  Law-abiding citizens are convinced [...]