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Criminal Conviction Review

November 23, 2022

My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate as well.

In June, a Justice lawyer wrote, on behalf of Justice Minister Lametti, to the lawyers for Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance — 2 of the 12 Indigenous women whose cases who were included in our report, Injustices and Miscarriages of Justice Experienced by 12 Indigenous Women: A Case for Group Conviction Review and Exoneration by the Department of Justice via the Law Commission of Canada and/or the Miscarriages of Justice Commission — advising that since there, “ . . . may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this matter,” their cases will be reviewed.

The cases of these and the additional 10 Indigenous women demonstrate the urgent need for protection to ensure that injustices like those experienced by the Quewezance sisters do not continue unabated.

Canadians have been promised two ways in which this can happen: the yet-to-be-implemented body to examine possible wrongful convictions, and the much anticipated revival of the former law commission of Canada. What will the mandates of each be, and when can we expect to see these review bodies up and running?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Thank you for your question. The short answer is “as soon as possible” on both counts.

Both of these commissions are part of the government’s ongoing effort to modernize and improve Canada’s laws and legal institutions, and that includes Bill C-5 — an important step that we in the Senate took last week.

As we know, before it was abolished in 2006, the law commission helped advance critically important policy ideas, including in the areas of family law, the legalization of same-sex marriage, to name but two. We’re hopeful that it will help address some of today’s most pressing needs, such as systemic discrimination in the justice system.

The government has already allocated funds for the law commission’s re-establishment through Budget 2021, with $18 million over five years and $4 million ongoing. The process of finding commission members is under way.

The new criminal case review commission will strengthen our justice system by providing for the expeditious review of potential wrongful convictions by an independent body. The structure of the new review commission will be informed by the consultations led by former judges Harry LaForme and Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, who published their final report earlier this year.

Thank you for that, Senator Gold.

Given the shortcomings of Bill C-5 and the reality that the 20 individuals granted conviction reviews over the past decades were all men — only one of whom was Black and one of whom was Indigenous — what measures in particular will be implemented from the recommendations that you mentioned in the report commissioned by the Minister of Justice and completed by the Honourable Harry LaForme and the Honourable Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré?

Senator Gold [ + ]

Thank you for your questions. The government deliberately selected these two individuals, both for their legal expertise and for their familiarity with the issues and realities that are facing marginalized people in our justice system.

As we know, Justice LaForme was the first Indigenous appellate court judge in Canada, and Justice Westmoreland-Traoré was the first Black judge in Quebec and the first Black dean of a Canadian law school.

During their consultations, they met with and received written briefs from hundreds of people, including victims of miscarriages of justice, victims of crime, criminal justice professionals and representatives of commissions that do similar work in other countries. Their final report makes numerous recommendations about the commission’s mandate and design, and the government is relying upon its report as it works to establish the criminal cases review commission as soon as possible.

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