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Jessop file: Why has it taken so long? | Bhavan Sodhi

Thursday, October 29, 2020 @ 10:45 AM | By Bhavan Sodhi

Bhavan Sodhi %>
Bhavan Sodhi
“Why has it taken so long?” is the key question now being asked in relation to the major investigative break announced in the 1984 murder of 9-year-old Christine Jessop. On Oct. 15, 2020 the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) cold case unit, using genetic genealogy, identified Calvin Hoover as the man that they believe killed the young girl. This long awaited and stunning news comes 36 years after the murder and 25 years after Guy Paul Morin’s exoneration and acquittal for Jessop’s killing.

However, some suggest that Hoover should have been identified early on as someone else deserving of close police scrutiny. He was a friend of the Jessop family and his name was in the original police investigative file as a person who had access to Christine. The Durham force and TPS have confirmed that Hoover was never before considered a suspect. This failure to consider Hoover and closely examine his alibi for the day of Jessop's abduction has led to decades of pain for the Morin, and Jessop families. It also remains unclear what other crimes, if any, Hoover may have committed between 1984 and 2015. 

Innocence Canada, the country’s leading legal advocate for the wrongly convicted, is now urging a carefully targeted review of the Jessop homicide investigation. Specifically, they are calling for an independent review into how both the Durham Regional Police and TPS failed to detect and investigate Hoover as a viable suspect long ago. This review would specifically focus on what police knew about Hoover and why they did not pursue him as a suspect. It is unclear to what extent, if any, Hoover’s alibi was sought and examined. It is also not known whether any consideration was given to obtaining his DNA.

Christine’s mother and brother have since added their voices and lent their support to Innocence Canada’s demand for a carefully targeted review. Janet and Kenneth Jessop say that an independent review is the only way to supply the answers they need, and authorities must account for how Hoover, who took part in searches for Christine in 1984 and attended her funeral and wake, was not investigated until now."Our prayers were answered on Oct. 15, 2020. But the answer was not justice. It was a kick in the teeth. With that answer came a million questions,” Mr. Jessop said in a statement sent to Innocence Canada.

Earlier this month, a similar review to the one that Innocence Canada is demanding was launched in Nova Scotia, into the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun, who spent nearly 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Nova Scotia’s police watchdog, announced it has asked British Columbia’s Independent Investigative Office to review the actions of a joint RCMP-Halifax police unit in connection to the case.

On Tues., Oct.27,  the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General stated that it would be inappropriate to conduct an inquiry while the investigation of Hoover is ongoing. Arguably, this perceived impropriety can be alleviated by the ministry making a firm commitment now to convene an independent review when the Hoover investigation has concluded. 

Further, there is some suggestion that this is not a concern that has prevented a targeted inquiry in the past. For example, the external review of Toronto missing persons’ cases was launched in September 2018 to evaluate how the TPS has conducted and is conducting missing person investigations, particularly in relation to LGBTQ2S+ and vulnerable or marginalized communities. Two months following serial killer, Bruce McArthur’s guilty plea, the review was expanded to specifically include his victims. In this instance Hoover died by suicide and this is a review historical investigation.

Ultimately, it might have been something that occurred over three decades ago; however, it is a nightmare that the Morin and Jessop families have lived for the past 36 years. It is Innocence Canada’s hope that through such a targeted review, invaluable lessons can and must be extracted to provide guidance to future investigations and emphasize the importance of adhering to fundamental, methodical investigative procedure.

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

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