Conviction: The AIDWYC Blog

17 04, 2015

Is the Science of DNA Wrongful Conviction-Proof?

By |April 17th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Author: Michael Macrae, Law Student, University of Toronto, Pro Bono Students of Canada (PBSC)

As technology increases in importance to the modern world, the evidence used in solving crimes has become increasingly complex. What was once typically a matter of considering witnesses’ testimonies, now often involves ballistics experts, psychiatrists, handwriting analysts, and other types of experts providing highly technical evidence that the average trier of fact has little inherent familiarity with. Of the various fields of specialized knowledge that have gained prominence, in the opinion of this author, none is more exciting in its implications or more misunderstood in its reliability than DNA evidence.

It cannot be denied that DNA testing is very beneficial in criminal trials. Since even identical twins differ in their DNA,[1] properly comparing DNA from suspects with that left at crime scenes by the true perpetrators of crimes can prove that a suspect was or was not at the scene of the crime. Conversely, those who were not present at crime scenes can be eliminated once it is discovered that their DNA does not match samples that investigators have collected.

The above scenario has happened, causing great benefit to many wrongly convicted people. Since its introduction as a legitimate tool of criminal investigation in 1989, DNA evidence has exonerated many who were wrongly convicted. Between 1989 and 2007, 200 innocent Americans were exonerated due to DNA testing.[2] This positive trend extends to Canada. Guy Paul Morin – AIDWYC’s first client – was convicted in 1992 of raping and murdering his neighbour based on incorrect hair analysis results. Morin was exonerated after spending about a year and a half in prison when DNA comparisons between him and samples originating from the murderer-rapist eliminated him [...]

16 04, 2015

AIDWYC’s Response to the Motherisk Review

By |April 16th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

As reported in the Toronto Star on April 16, 2015, AIDWYC recently wrote to those responsible for the ongoing Motherisk Hair Analysis Independent Review. You can read our letter below.

For more information please contact James Lockyer: 416-847-2560 x222/


20 03, 2015


By |March 20th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

FRIDAY, MARCH 20, AT 3:00 P.M.
(Former Justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal)

Click here to download this press release – French or scroll down to read the French version
Click here to download this press release – English
Today, Mr. Delisle’s counsel, James Lockyer, a Toronto lawyer, and the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted / L’Association pour la Défense des Personnes Injustement Condamnées (AIDWYC) announce that they are taking on Mr. Delisle’s case and seeking a review of his case by the Minister of Justice, the Honourable Peter Mackay. They believe that Mr. Delisle was wrongly convicted of first degree murder in the death of his wife, Nicole Rainville.
Tonight, at 9:00 p.m., CBC’s fifth estate will be presenting a one hour documentary on the case.
Mr. Delisle was a judge in the Quebec Superior Court from 1983 to 1992. In 1992, he was appointed a judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal where he remained until his retirement on April 30, 2009. He is said to be the only judge in Canadian history to have been convicted of murder.
On the morning of November 12, 2009, Mr. Delisle came home to his condominium in Quebec City to find that his wife had taken her own life. She had shot herself in the left temple.
On June 14, 2012, a jury convicted Mr. Delisle of first degree murder. He lost his appeal in the Quebec Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his case. Mr. Delisle has been imprisoned at Sainte Anne- des-Plaines Penitentiary outside Montreal since that day. [...]

25 02, 2015

When Will the Law Catch Up with Psychology? Here’s some of what everyone working in the justice system should know about false confessions!

By |February 25th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

In 2014, in R v Hart,the Supreme Court of Canada created a new common law rule in acknowledgement of the fact that certain undercover operations – known as Mr. Big Stings – have the potential to elicit false confessions and, in turn, contribute to wrongful convictions. Years before that decision, however, Canadian lawyers and psychologists warned of the risks of the operations. In fact, in 2009 – after spending over a decade in prison – AIDWYC client Kyle Unger was exonerated after his confession to “Mr. Big” was shown to be false.

In a similar vein, psychologists have been denouncing the psychologically coercive Reid interrogation technique for decades. AIDWYC is very pleased to be working with the Niagara Regional Police Service as they train their interrogators in PEACE – a less manipulative interview technique – however many police forces across the country continue to use the Reid technique or elements of it.

While we don’t know when the law will catch up with what psychologists have known for years, we suggest all those working in the criminal justice system read the following articles so that we can work together to prevent wrongful convictions.

If you want to learn about the latest developments in detention, arrest, interviewing and interrogation, please click here.

NOTE: Special thanks to Professor Tim Moore Chair of the Psychology Department, Glendon, York University for providing the following articles.

Moore, T. E., Copeland, P., & Schuller, R. (2009). Deceit, betrayal and the search for truth: Legal and psychological perspectives on the ‘Mr Big’ strategy. Criminal Law Quarterly, 55(3), 349 – 405.

Moore, T. E., & Fitzsimmons, C. L. (2011). Justice Imperiled: False Confessions & the Reid technique. Criminal Law Quarterly, 57(4), 509-542.

Moore, T. E., & Keenan, K. (2013). [...]

25 02, 2015

Flip Your Wig for Justice 2015

By |February 25th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

The AIDWYC Team is grateful to everyone who has supported Flip Your Wig for Justice thus far. If you would still like to donate, please click here.

For more information about the campaign, please visit the website

Still wondering WHY we’re flipping our wigs? Please watch a short video featuring AIDWYC Client Romeo Phillion on YouTube by clicking here!

24 02, 2015

Is That Even Legal?!? Entrapment and Mr. Big

By |February 24th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Author: Michael Macrae, University of Toronto, Faculty of Law

Often in the course of presentations to groups about situations in which Canadians have been wrongly convicted, lawyers working for AIDWYC have been asked something along the lines of “Is a Mr. Big Sting not entrapment?” This question doubtlessly arises based upon the presupposition that entrapment is incapable, in law, of providing evidence that can convict a person. It is true that this presupposition contains a kernel of truth; demonstration that an accused party was entrapped can secure relief from criminal sanctions. Yet entrapment is more complicated and controversial than may first be thought, and its protection against criminal consequences is even more so. Applying the complexity of modern entrapment doctrines to the Mr. Big sting reveals two truths:

Mr. Big stings are not entrapment.

Even if they were entrapment, they would be justified forms of entrapment.

Defining terms makes the issue clearer.

Entrapment occurs when a police officer encourages a person to commit a crime under the pretence that the police officer (who is a witness to the crime) is not a police officer; upon witnessing the crime, the police officer arrests the person and charges him or her with the crime just committed.[1]

Mr. Big stings occur when police are dealing with those whom they suspect of having committed serious crimes but lack sufficient evidence for a credible arrest warrant. In those circumstances, rather than relying upon more effective detective work or waiting for future developments that may justify arrest, police impersonate hardened criminals and lure their suspect into what he or she believes to be a dangerous gang. In order to enhance the realism, accused are urged to commit what they are told are illegal acts, for which [...]

19 02, 2015

My Experience as an AIDWYC Volunteer and a Law Student at Glen Assoun’s Bail Hearing

By |February 19th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Glen Assoun – an innocent man – stands with his arm around a grandson he had not met prior to the day this photograph was taken – his first day out of prison in over 16 years – as AIDWYC Board Member and Counsel Sean MacDonald looks on. (Photo: Danielle Levesque, Dalhousie Law)

Author: Steve Flanagan, Law Student, Dalhousie University

As an AIDWYC volunteer and a law student, I’ve read hundreds of criminal cases, many of which reveal the horrifying details of brutal crimes such as robbery, sexual assault and murder. In trying to analyze and understand the developing law in each of these cases, it has sometimes been easy to overlook the fact that each case tells a story of a significant, life-changing situation in the lives of the parties involved. An even more easily overlooked aspect of these crimes is the impact they have on the parties’ friends and families. Although any particular crime may only directly involve one perpetrator and one victim, it often happens that dozens of lives are impacted.

This is undoubtedly true in the case of a valid conviction, but in the event that a conviction is brought into question or shown to be wrongful, each of these concerns is amplified. This was the atmosphere I found myself in the midst of as I sat in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on the morning of November 24th, 2014. Glen Assoun was convicted and imprisoned in 1999 for the 1995 murder of Brenda Way in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. In 1999 he was handed a life sentence with no eligibility of parole for 18.5 years.[1] As a result of AIDWYC’s work after taking on Glen’s case, the Federal Department of Justice recently acknowledged [...]

17 02, 2015

Khela and Smith: A Dangerous Step in Ensuring Responsible Jury Instructions

By |February 17th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Editor’s Note: A past AIDWYC blog article questioned whether or not judges’ instructions to juries are effective tools in the fight against wrongful convictions. Leaving that debate aside (for now!) this week’s article questions whether the efficacy of a specific type of judicial warning – the Vetrovec warning – has been eroded through the jurisprudence of the same court who developed it. What do you think? Tweet us: @AIDWYC

Author: Lewis Fainer, Law Student, University of Toronto.

Prior to a jury adjudicating an accused’s culpability, its members receive a series of instructions from the judge presiding over the trial. Some jury instructions aim to ensure that juries do not consider evidence which may prejudice them against an accused. The Vetrovec warning has this goal in mind. It requires that judges warn jurors about the dangers of accepting testimony offered by unsavoury witnesses. These are witnesses whose credibility is questionable, usually because of their relationship to the accused or their history with the criminal justice system. Two 2009 decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada undermine the likelihood that future Vetrovec warnings will effectively warn jurors about the danger of accepting certain evidence.

In R v Khela[1] and R v Smith,[2] the Supreme Court granted trial judges increased flexibility in determining the form and content of Vetrovec warnings given during jury instructions. This expanded latitude has the potential to increase juries’ prejudice against the accused and generate wrongful convictions.
Foundational Principles of the Vetrovec warning
In Vetrovec v The Queen, Dickson J described the Vetrovec warning as, “a clear and sharp warning to attract the jury’s attention to the risks of adopting, without more, the evidence of [an unsavoury] witness.”[3] The court added that when deciding whether to [...]

11 02, 2015

Why We Flip Our Wigs: The State of Access to Justice in Canada

By |February 11th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

AIDWYC Client Romeo Phillion spent 31 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He is now an Ambassador for Flip Your Wig for Justice, a collaborative campaign raising funds and awareness for access to justice. Please visit for more information and to sponsor the AIDWYC team as we flip our wigs, please click here.

Author: Danielle Levesque, PBSC Student, Dalhousie Law

Whether it’s Tom Cruise in a Few Good Men, or Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife, we watch fearless television characters with admiration as they eloquently navigate the courtroom. They craft clever arguments, they exude self-assurance, and ultimately, they win their cases. If you’re one of the twelve million Canadians who will encounter the legal system within the next three years, you may be inspired to seize your day in court independent of legal representation. How difficult could it really be to stand up in court and tell the judge and jury how you have been wronged? You can speak passionately about your case and you don’t need to pay a lawyer to do it for you.

The illusion provided by the drama of television is that the legal system is a straightforward process. But when the cameras turn off, it becomes time to research evidentiary rules, submit technical motions, and to complete other civil and criminal procedures laid out in thick Codes, Acts, and Regulations. Directly on the Government of Canada’s Ministry of Justice website it breaks the news, “The procedure in a civil case can be complex.”[1] The reality is that to best navigate the judicial system, it’s recommended that you study law for three years, followed by a year of articling, and the completion of an intensive bar admission [...]

6 02, 2015

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) & Wrongful Admissions of Guilt

By |February 6th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Editor’s Note: The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) & Justice website is a very useful resource, designed for justice system professionals and others who want to understand more about FASD. It provides information and resources about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, including background information, case law, legal resources and strategies for effective intervention. Please visit the website for more information on this important topic.

Author: Caycie Soke, Law Student, University of Manitoba, Robson Hall

Why Would An Innocent Person Plead Guilty?

Wrongful convictions happen for many reasons: misleading evidence, unreliable witnesses, biased juries to name a few. Many of the factors we usually associate with wrongful convictions occur during the trial stage of a case, and ultimately lead a jury or judge to find an accused guilty. However, events that happen before a case ever goes to trial may also lead to a wrongful conviction. A false admission of guilt is one such example.

It is difficult to imagine why someone would plead guilty if they are innocent. However there are many factors that may tempt an accused to falsely plead guilty. Some of these factors may be built into the pre-trial process, like difficulty in finding a lawyer or obtaining adequate legal information. Other factors may be cultural or social in nature, like a language barrier that prevents an accused from properly understanding their legal rights.

An accused may wrongfully admit guilt because they misunderstand why they are being charged, what they are being charged with, or what the consequences or alternatives are to an admission. This confusion may occur in their initial discussions with a lawyer or police officer and affect the outcome of their case.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder [FASD] is a cognitive (intellectual) disorder that may [...]