Miscarriage of justice act ‘a long time coming’

Innocence Canada called the recent announcement on a proposed Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission Act a monumental step in addressing wrongful convictions in Canada.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Pam Glatt, director of education at Innocence Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates for the innocent and to prevent wrongful convictions.

The bill proposed by federal Justice Minister David Lametti will establish an independent commission to review, investigate and decide which criminal cases should be returned to the justice system due to a potential miscarriage of justice, according to a news release.

Currently, the justice minister alone has the power to conclude a miscarriage of justice “likely” occurred, order a new trial or refer the case to the court of appeal. The proposed new process will be a commission-led, “independent, stand-alone entity outside the Department of Justice.”

Now when people apply to have their case reviewed, they “are applying to the very state that convicted them in the first place to re-investigate their case, which doesn’t exactly allow for independence and no bias,” said Glatt, 35.

This announcement is an opportunity for wrongful conviction applications to be dealt with and reviewed in a way that upholds the integrity of our criminal justice system, Glatt said.

While the justice minister currently decides whether a miscarriage of justice “likely” occurred, the bar set for the proposed commission will be lower, requiring only that a miscarriage of justice “may” have occurred. The decision to order a new trial or send the case back to the court of appeal will be in the “interest of justice,” which Glatt says will allow for a more holistic approach to application reviews.

Glatt says the bill acknowledges that Indigenous, Black and marginalized communities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and will make it easier and faster for reviews to occur.

The news release also mentions the commission will reflect Canada’s diversity and take into account the overrepresented groups in the criminal justice system.

Glatt is cautiously optimistic the bill is a step in the right direction, but adds, “We have to see how long it will take for this to get passed and what it will look like.”

Nairah Ahmed, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer