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The man with the newspaper | Ron Dalton

Thursday, August 08, 2019 @ 11:36 AM | By Ron Dalton


Ron Dalton %>
Ron Dalton
One day a man gave me his used newspaper to read, he did the same for each of the next five days, hardly a monumental act of kindness but one which had an immediate and lasting impact on my life. It was the summer of 1988 and I had just been arrested for the murder of my wife, the mother of our three young children. I was sitting in a holding cell of the local RCMP detachment in a small rural Newfoundland town.

The man was a civilian employed as a part-time jailer and cleaner at the detachment who worked only when needed which was not often. He extended a simple act of kindness to me at a time when all of the “professionals” I was dealing with were treating me with contempt and abuse.

That seemingly small gesture was enough to remind me there was still some good in a world which appeared very dark and desolate. His treatment of me as a fellow human being greatly eased the suffering I was enduring at that time and to me was all the more remarkable because he had no reason to believe I was not guilty of the terrible crime for which I was charged.

The fact of the matter is my 31-year-old wife had accidentally choked to death on dry cereal and her tragic death left me and our three young children devastated. That tragedy was compounded by the conclusion of an untrained pathologist who thought my wife had been strangled which in turn led to my arrest and the chance encounter with the man with the newspaper.

I was shocked when the police and prosecutors proceeded to arrest and convict me of murder without getting a second opinion from an experienced forensic pathologist. That nightmare continued for the next 12 years before I was eventually acquitted at a retrial in the summer of 2000 on the strength of numerous world renowned forensic pathologists who agreed no crime had occurred.

It is against that background I venture to comment on an often overlooked area of human rights, those of prisoners in this country.

Canada has much to commend itself as a country and we take solace from the fact our justice and prison systems are not as bad as those in many other developed countries. Notwithstanding those laudable facts our criminal justice system remains flawed and our prison system falls far short of according our most vulnerable fellow citizens the human rights our Charter espouses.

My experience as a wrongly convicted individual led me to the inevitable conclusion there had to be other men and women in our country who were suffering a similar fate. At the conclusion of my own tragic journey I looked for a way to assist those left behind who were also wrongly convicted and found an organization struggling to expose and correct those injustices.

Innocence Canada is a non-profit organization which has worked diligently to restore freedom to two dozen such men and women during the past 25 years. I have volunteered with the organization for almost 20 years and have been a member of the board of directors for half of those years. At Innocence Canada we are justifiably proud of the work we have done to not only help free the innocent and in some instances to identify the actual perpetrator of the crime. It is unfortunate, that such important and essential corrective work to fix the serious mistakes of our justice system has been left to a poorly funded volunteer organization.

As a prisoner I lived with the consequences of injustice on a daily basis. It is sad but hardly surprising that our prisons are becoming increasingly violent places to live. Nothing less could be expected when the criminal justice system has been proven fallible so often and those charged with the care of some of the most vulnerable among us are allowed to abuse that privilege behind closed doors.

A few days ago I read of a defence lawyer being told the prison was not able to locate his client nor could they inform him in which prison his client might be residing. I once had the experience of having my family travel from another province to visit me in prison only to have them informed I was unavailable as they were “unable to properly identify” me. I had been in that prison for seven years at that point and any time they wished to discipline me there never seemed to be any such difficulty with my identification.

Through my work with Innocence Canada I have been privileged to meet most of the wrongly convicted men and women in this country who have been freed as well as a number of those on whose behalf we continue to work. Each of them can relate hundreds of human rights abuses they suffered or witnessed along the way.

Each of us can also recall those individuals who, like the man with the newspaper, treated us with the respect all fellow human beings deserve. Sadly those individuals stand out in our memory because they were the exceptions.

As we recognize International Prisoners’ Justice Day this Aug.10, I will be fasting in solidarity with my fellow citizens who happen to be in prison and I encourage readers to reflect on what we collectively lose as a country when we allow the rights of prisoners to be trampled rather than to follow the example of the man with the newspaper.

In 1988 Ron Dalton was a 32-year-old bank manager when he was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. It took the next 12 years to prove his innocence, restore his freedom and return him to his family, including the couple's three children. Since that ordeal Dalton has tried to reintegrate into family life, earn a living and he volunteers with Innocence Canada, a non-profit organization working to free other wrongly convicted individuals. 

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