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Judge Helps Victims of His Own Court

January 24, 2009 permalink

Retired Ontario Superior Court judge Ian Cartwright has donated a million dollars to the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.

In the 1980s Canadians were shocked to hear that Donald Marshall had spent eleven years in jail for a murder that he did not commit. Today cases of wrongful homicide conviction are coming to light by the dozen, as in the recent Charles Smith inquiry. Sadly, wrongful court actions extend far beyond criminal cases. Ontario has over a hundred thousand children separated from one parent, usually the father, by divorce courts. While courts may not be able to reconcile mother and father in these cases, in most there is no need to drive the father out of the lives of his children by force of arms. And in child protection cases, Ontario has eighteen thousand children in foster care, most separated from their parents for frivolous reasons. While judge Cartwright has made a start in acknowledging failings in the criminal courts, there is a greater burden of injustice in family law cases still without remediation.




The wrongfully convicted get a rightful donation

Million-dollar gift from retired judge will help non-profit advocacy group work to overturn unjust convictions


The office manager of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, Win Wahrer, froze in astonishment recently as she shook out the contents of a letter from Calgary.

Out tumbled a personal cheque for a million dollars.

In an instant, AIDWYC ended 15 years as a grassroots outfit struggling for every dime in order to ferret out and help exonerate the wrongly convicted.

The identity of the donor was surprising - Ian Cartwright, a retired Ontario Superior Court judge whose family has operated the Canada Law Book publishing house for several decades.

As word of the donation - which will provide no tax deduction to Mr. Cartwright because the group does not have charity status - travelled through the upper echelons of AIDWYC, the directors were flabbergasted. Lawyer Paul Copeland sent a one-word e-mail to Mr. Cartwright: "WOW."

Another director, lawyer James Lockyer, felt woozy. "I felt a sense of wonder and joy - and a bit frightened," Mr. Lockyer recalled yesterday. "I had to hear it two or three times before I could believe it.

"This demonstrates such a tremendous commitment to justice. It was so much money that my immediate thought was: 'We can't take this; it's too much responsibility.' "

Ralph Steinberg, co-president of AIDWYC, said he was heartened to learn it was a former judge who made the donation.

"We can assume that he is aware of the need for some mechanism outside of the appeal process to bring wrongful convictions to light," Mr. Steinberg said. "The last 15 years have seen a steady, increasing progression in the work AIDWYC does. There just doesn't seem to be an end to these cases."

Mr. Cartwright and his wife, Pat, asked AIDWYC to put the money into a fund in the name of former Canada Law Book president Stan Corbett, who is fighting cancer.

"I've been a very keen supporter of this association," Mr. Cartwright said in an interview yesterday. "The huge thing with these volunteer organizations is that they live hand-to-mouth, wondering, 'How are we going to continue?' "

Mr. Cartwright said he normally makes donations anonymously, but he hopes that his million-dollar gesture will prompt others to help fund AIDWYC. "They just don't have the capital funding they need," he said.

Mr. Corbett expressed delight that at a time when most organizations are downsizing and contemplating layoffs, AIDWYC can now envision a golden future.

"You know, the state has unlimited resources," he said. "We have a wonderful justice system in Canada, but I have often thought that there is a one-sided balance. Mistakes can and do happen. Prosecutors take a more adversarial position nowadays, and there needs to be a counterbalance.

"This organization has really picked up the gauntlet and taken a lead role in finding these cases where there may have been wrongful convictions," Mr. Corbett said. "I think they have done a fantastic job in this area. Having my name attached to this - I couldn't be more pleased or honoured."

AIDWYC directors said yesterday that the donation will likely go in many directions. With funding available for forensic testing, court transcripts and expert witnesses, they said clients will no longer have to languish in prison for months or years as a case for their exoneration is prepared.

AIDWYC also can contemplate lobbying politicians and justice officials for criminal justice reforms. And Mr. Lockyer said the association will move to expand its primary base - in Ontario, Newfoundland and Manitoba - into provinces where it has had difficulty gaining a foothold, particularly Alberta and British Columbia.

"Lawyers have always worked for free, and that won't change," Mr. Lockyer said. "But the administration behind the cases, as well as the work that is required to investigate cases, does cost money. We have to think how we can free more people, and free them quicker."

Mr. Cartwright said he only wished there was an organization like AIDWYC he could have donated money to 40 or 50 year ago, when Canada still had capital punishment.

"I just hate to think of the number of people who have been hanged," he said. "Some innocent people have definitely been hung, because the evidence against them just wasn't there."

Beyond Guy Paul Morin

The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted has few peers when it comes to achieving goals and reaping publicity for a cause.

Operating on a shoestring since its creation in 1993, the group has been instrumental in freeing more than a dozen wrongly convicted individuals serving murder sentences. Along the way, it has developed a media profile that would be the envy of any grassroots, volunteer organization.

Scores of prisoners from the U.S. to Mexico and Australia have sought help from the association, a global leader in the wrongful-conviction movement.

The association grew out of the Justice for Guy Paul Morin Committee, formed in 1992 to support Mr. Morin, who had been convicted of murdering his next-door neighbour, Christine Jessop.

Operating pro bono and with financial help from the Law Foundation of Ontario, a shifting group of 25 to 50 AIDWYC lawyers sift through pleas for help in search of those where prosecution evidence was scanty or appears to have been compromised.

Activists invariably list lack of funding as the overriding factor causing innocent people to remain in prison. A single case can consume hundreds of hours of work as lawyers reinterview witnesses, scrutinize transcripts and scour archives for unnoticed clues that could unravel a conviction.

The cases that AIDWYC has helped win exonerations include: William Mullins-Johnson and Steven Truscott (Ontario); David Milgaard (Saskatchewan); Greg Parsons, Ronald Dalton and Randy Druken (Newfoundland); Jim Driskell (Manitoba), and Clayton Johnson (Nova Scotia).

Kirk Makin

Source: Globe and Mail