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Jessop file: It is never too late to correct a wrong | Bhavan Sodhi

Friday, October 16, 2020 @ 9:21 AM | By Bhavan Sodhi

Bhavan Sodhi %>
Bhavan Sodhi
Two hundred and 10 years is a long time. Comparatively, 210 years ago was 57 years before the confederation of what is now Canada; it was more than a century before both world wars; 172 years before the introduction of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and it is a duration spanning over 28 different Canadian prime ministers. Two hundred and 10 is also the total number of years that 23 Canadians have collectively spent in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Notably, that number is only a portion of the multiple wrongful convictions overturned in this country over the past three decades. Now, another Canadian might join this ever-growing and shameful club.

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Phillip Tallio, assisted by his counsel Rachel Barsky, stood before the British Columbia Court of Appeal for the first time since his 1983 guilty plea for the sexual assault and murder of his 22-month-old cousin, Delavina Mack. Since his conviction, Tallio has maintained his innocence and, if overturned, his 37-year prison term would be the longest any Canadian has served for a crime they did not commit. This week, Tallio has been granted the opportunity to tell his story, on his own, for the first time.

However, Tallio is not alone. Over the past three decades, the problem of wrongful conviction has become an accepted reality of our Canadian criminal justice system. A number of factors contribute to wrongful conviction and imprisonment, including erroneous eyewitness identification and testimony, police and prosecutorial misconduct, false confessions, over-reliance on in-custody informants, and unsound forensic science or its misuse.

This recognition is in part thanks to the efforts of Innocence Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying, advocating for and exonerating individuals convicted of a crime that they did not commit. Since 1993, Innocence Canada has been instrumental in exonerating 23 wrongly convicted Canadians — including Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, Steven Truscott, Glen Assoun and eight victims of disgraced pathologist Charles Smith. In fact, at this very moment, Innocence Canada’s team of staff counsel and pro-bono lawyers are currently reviewing approximately 90 claims of innocence.

For the past three years, I have had the privilege and opportunity to serve as the head of the case team at Innocence Canada. In that capacity, I have worked on a number of wrongful conviction cases and understand firsthand, the time and resources that are required to put together a single claim of innocence. It is with that experience in mind, that I can confidently say that, it is never too late to correct a wrong.

In fact, the best example of that notion came yesterday afternoon, as I worked on this very article. Like so many others, I tuned into the Toronto Police Service’s announcement, that they had made a major investigative break in the 1984 murder of 9-year-old Christine Jessop. As many of you may know, Guy Paul Morin was wrongly convicted of Jessop’s murder and it was in the effort to advocate for and overturn Morin’s conviction that Innocence Canada came to be.

That being said, Innocence Canada simply cannot function without public support.

It is the only national, non-governmental organization working to exonerate the wrongly convicted and urgently requires donations and funds in order to continue providing these services. Please take some time to make an online donation here. Every donation helps and is greatly appreciated.

Bhavan Sodhi is director of the Innocence Project and case management counsel at Innocence Canada.

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