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This article was published 9/5/2019 (336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Innocence Canada recently urged Manitoba to undertake an inquiry into the legacy of former Crown prosecutor George Dangerfield, it was greeted in Manitoba with a deafening silence and apparent indifference by the Progressive Conservative government and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals.
Given Mr. Dangerfield’s legacy, that’s a rather disturbing response.
Long since retired, Mr. Dangerfield has been the author of four confirmed cases of wrongful conviction. Three other Dangerfield cases are at various stages of review by the federal Justice Department. Innocence Canada believes these other three cases will also end up as confirmed wrongful convictions.
A review of all seven cases suggests a consistent pattern of professional misconduct that has repeatedly resulted in perversions of justice.
Evidence was either misrepresented or withheld. Unsavoury Crown witnesses and jailhouse informants were given secret compensation. Systemic post-conviction efforts were made to frustrate efforts to reopen the cases. And when new evidence was finally unearthed, Mr. Dangerfield and Manitoba Justice continued to argue against the bids of the accused to seek exoneration.
All these seemingly deliberate efforts to undermine justice — from the original wrongful prosecutions to the efforts to stop the cases from being reopened — have manifested in multimillion-dollar settlements. A recent settlement with Kyle Unger, who spent 14 years in prison for a 1992 murder, was not disclosed publicly. But the taxpayers’ tab for Mr. Dangerfield’s wrongful convictions of James Driskell and Thomas Sophonow is about $7 million. A fourth case, involving Frank Ostrowski, will almost certainly end in yet another cash settlement.
With a record like this, how have Manitoba’s three political parties reacted?
In response to Innocence Canada’s demand, the Tory government indicated the current system — which requires applicants to get pro bono legal representation to fight years for a federal review of their claims of innocence — is working fine. No need for an inquiry of any kind.
Manitoba’s opposition parties were similarly nonplussed.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont refused Free Press requests to comment on Mr. Unger’s settlement or Mr. Dangerfield’s rapidly growing tab with taxpayers.
By ignoring Innocence Canada and refusing to publicly comment on Mr. Dangerfield’s cases, Manitoba’s three main political parties are only confirming the victims of wrongful convictions are, in most instances, political pariahs.
Politicians seem most concerned supporting a victim of wrongful conviction will be conflated with being soft on crime. This confusion is aided in no small part by the fact that even after compelling evidence of a miscarriage of justice has come to light, police and prosecutors often continue to use taxpayer resources to argue against exoneration, both in courts of law and the court of public opinion.
Whatever the cause, Manitoba’s politicians seem to believe supporting calls for an inquiry into the career of a Crown prosecutor whose professional misdeeds ruined the lives of seven Manitobans somehow runs counter to the principles of justice and public safety.
On the contrary. It is impossible to claim a commitment to either justice or public safety if you are repeatedly turning a blind eye to confirmed cases in which innocent citizens have been incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
Politicians of all stripes in Manitoba should end their shameful silence, secure in the knowledge their willingness to ignore Mr. Dangerfield’s deeply troubling legacy is, in itself, a continuing injustice.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.