OTTAWA — David Milgaard has lost patience with the Trudeau government over its stalled pledge to establish an independent body to rectify wrongful convictions.
"Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Justice Minister David Lametti are failing to act on this situation," Milgaard wrote in a statement to the Free Press.
He urged Canadians to pressure Ottawa to follow through on its promise to create a review panel that is independent from prosecutors.
Milgaard reached out Tuesday, 11 days after the Free Press reported that Trudeau had downgraded this promise to a secondary priority for his justice minister.
Shortly after the fall 2019 election, Trudeau’s marching orders for Lametti 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 1969 murder in Saskatoon 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.
Under the current process, Justice Department officials, whose colleagues are often involved in the original prosecutions, are involved.
But on Jan. 15, Trudeau issued updated mandate letters, and Lametti’s priority list no longer included the wrongful-conviction panel.
Successive federal governments have promised to reform the system, and the Trudeau government appeared the most committed to following through.
Milgaard said Tuesday that only "limited consultations" have taken place, and that "what could have been accomplished in a matter of months, is almost at a standstill."
Milgaard stressed he spoke on his own behalf, and not any advocacy group that he helps to run.
He said pushing to get the federal review body up and running has taken away from work to support prisoners who say they have been wrongfully convicted.
"These men, women and in some cases children, need Canadians to stand up for them now. They are in immediate need of our help," he wrote, comparing the lives put on hold to the stalled promise to get the review panel launched.
He noted that prisons and jails have been hotbeds of coronavirus outbreaks.
"COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to slow progress. If anything, a pandemic should underscore exactly why it is critically important to act swiftly and effectively," Milgaard wrote.
Milgaard called Lametti "a compassionate person" but said he’s personally hurt to see the lack of progress, asking both the justice minister and Trudeau to expedite things.
"They have the power to do what is just and they have a legal and ethical responsibility to unlock the cages of those who need our help the most — the people who have done no wrong," he wrote.
Lametti’s office insisted Tuesday he will follow through with this promise, saying his government wants to make sure it tables appropriate legislation and conduct public consultations.