Lametti orders new trial as half-century-old murder conviction is likely a miscarriage of justice

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (June 23, 2023, 11:23 AM EDT) -- Justice Minister David Lametti has ordered a new trial for two Manitoba men convicted of non-capital murder  in 1974, finding after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that “there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”

The federal justice minister announced June 22 that he ordered the new trial for Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse under the Criminal Code’s s. 696.1 conviction review provisions.

“After a thorough review of Mr. Anderson and Mr. Woodhouse’s case, I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred and that a new trial should be ordered,” Lametti said in the DOJ’s announcement.

Justice Minister David Lametti

Justice Minister David Lametti

The two Indigenous men were convicted in 1974 of a single count of non-capital murder in the 1973 fatal beating and stabbing death of Ting Fong Chan.

Innocence Canada, which advocates against and seeks to rectify wrongful convictions, said the pair were victims of systemic racism.

Their appeals to the Manitoba Court of Appeal were dismissed 1974 , and in 1975, the Supreme Court denied Anderson leave to appeal.

He was released on parole in 1987 and Woodhouse in 1990, and in 2019 and 2020 respectively the pair submitted their applications to the justice minister to review their conviction on the basis that a miscarriage of justice occurred in their case.

Lametti said his new trial order came after he closely examined the information initially submitted in support of the applications and after an in-depth DOJ investigation.

A “key consideration is whether the application is supported by new matters of significance, such as new information that has surfaced since the trial and appeal,” the DOJ said.

Without providing details, Lametti said new information has been identified that was not before the courts at the time of the trial and appeals. “The minister’s decision to order a new trial is not a decision about the guilt or innocence of the applicants,” the DOJ said. “It is a decision to return the matter to the courts where the relevant legal issues may be determined according to the law.”

Section 696.1 of the Criminal Code provides that a person who has been convicted of an offence and who has exhausted all rights of appeal may apply to the Minister of Justice for a review of their conviction.

The DOJ’s criminal conviction review group conducts an investigation on behalf of the Minister of Justice.

The Liberal government’s Bill C-40, which would amend the Criminal Code to 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, had completed second reading when the House of Commons adjourned for its summer break June 21.

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