OTTAWA — The federal Liberals have put on the back burner a pledge to create a panel to rectify wrongful convictions, which David Milgaard has spent years trying to bring to life.
Justice Minister David Lametti said he’s committed to that promise, despite it having vanished from his priority list Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued what he called "supplemental" mandate letters to cabinet ministers, outlining new priorities that take precedent over the ones he’d assigned after the fall 2019 election.
Lametti’s original marching orders listed 21 priorities, the first of which sought to "establish an independent criminal case review commission to make it easier and faster for potentially wrongfully convicted people to have their applications reviewed."
Before the pandemic, Lametti met with advocates to discuss that pledge, including Milgaard, the Winnipeg man who served 23 years in prison for a murder in Saskatoon in 1969 that he didn’t commit.
The idea is to put Canada in line with other countries that have independent commissions review cases in which a criminal argues they’ve been wrongfully convicted.
That’s instead of the current process of leaving it up to Department of Justice officials, whose colleagues are often involved in the original prosecutions.
Successive federal governments have pledged to reform this process, but the Trudeau government appears the most committed to doing it.
Yet Lametti’s new mandate letter, issued Friday, made no mention of this pledge, despite listing other commitments from last fall, such as gun control and encoding Indigenous rights.
Nevertheless, the minister insisted he intends to deliver the promise.
"I can assure you that meeting this important goal remains a top priority for me personally, and for our government," Lametti wrote to the Free Press.
He said his team has been in touch with various stakeholders over the past year, and will soon launch a public consultation period.
"Wrongful convictions are a matter of deep concern to me, and indeed many Canadians."
Milgaard declined to do an interview, saying he wanted to consult his team of advocates.