If the purpose of a Crown prosecutor is to seek justice, not conviction of the accused, Manitoba's Justice department has done a marked disservice to the review of a case now the focus of a wrongful conviction application. Justice Minister Andrew Swan must act to protect the integrity of such reviews.
Brandonite Deveryn Ross, a regular Free Press columnist and former lawyer, has spent nearly 20 years fighting a fraud conviction. This month, a Federal Court judge castigated a federal minister's decision to turn down Mr. Ross's request for a review of the 1995 conviction, calling it unjustified and lacking in intelligibility. The judge tossed the case back into the lap of current Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
Equally troubling, however, is how Manitoba handled its role in the review request. The Justice Department hired the same Crown attorney (no longer with the department) who put Mr. Ross in jail to prepare the provincial response. This is inherently wrong, inviting bias into the response the province sends to Ottawa.
The criticism of Mr. Nicholson and Manitoba's hiring of the interested prosecutor underscore the necessity of independence in reviews of wrongful-conviction applications. A prosecutions office cannot be asked to rethink its own role in such cases. Reviews that rest with political office have been found to be slow, cumbersome and fraught with problems.
Canada has refused to adopt the independent commission model used elsewhere for such reviews. Mr. MacKay must bow to the compelling argument for such a body. Mr. Swan must insist Manitoba cases are reviewed by outside, independent counsel. Anything less compounds the perception of injustice, potentially derailing the pursuit of truth.