Group that's supposed to fight for wrongly convicted dropped ball
by Doug Millroy, Editor Emeritus of The Sault Star
originally in the Sault Star
In May of last year it appeared John Moore had found a formidable ally in his fight to overturn a conviction for attempted murder under a law that is no longer on the books, having been overturned in 1987.
AIDWYC, the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, had informed him that it was going to review his case.
One year later, those hopes have been dashed.
Win Wahrer, director of client services with AIDWYC, recently wrote Moore that the association wouldn't be taking his case.
"AIDWYC's Canadian Convictions Assessment Group discussed your case in great detail, but concluded there was no fresh evidence to support a
s. 696.1 application to the federal
justice minister," Wahrer wrote.
"Regrettably, AIDWYC is not able to assist you in the furtherance of your case without fresh evidence."
Moore responded to Wahrer that the letter was a sad disappointment after the warm welcome he received at AIDWYC's conference last year.
And Clarissa Lassaline wrote to Wahrer, saying that Justice and Freedom for John Moore, the group that has long supported Moore "is stunned and deeply troubled by AIDWYC's decision not to take on the wrongful conviction of Mr. Moore.
"It is difficult to comprehend that an advocacy group such as AIDWYC has decided to turn its back on a clear case of wrongful conviction, especially since AIDWYC's stated primary mandate is to review and support claims of innocence in homicide cases."
I agree and I am having trouble with Wahrer's comment that AIDWYC is unable to assist Moore because there is no fresh evidence.
It had to know this when it opted to review his case as Moore, in his 34-year fight to clear his name, had never made any claim as to having fresh evidence.
He is fighting the injustice of his conviction, which I thought was what AIDWYC was all about.
Cab driver Donald Lanthier was robbed and murdered by Gordon Stevens and Terry Hogan in a ravine on Third Line in 1978. Moore, who was not present, but was with Stevens and Hogan earlier in the day, was convicted on the basis of a section of the Criminal Code that said any party to one crime in which another is committed "ought to have known" the probable consequences.
Nobody today could be convicted under the law, which saw him serve 10 years in jail, because the Supreme Court of Canada in 1987 struck it down.
It overturned a murder conviction against Yvan Vaillancourt, a New Brunswicker who had participated in a robbery of a pool hall in which his accomplice shot and killed a man, on the basis that he was not responsible or liable for the death since he could not have "objectively foreseen it."
Ironically, the same court had denied Moore's appeal in 1985, his lawyer, Glenn Sandburg, essentially putting forward the same argument.
Since Moore wasn't at the scene, it's hard to comprehend how the court didn't come to the same conclusion in his case.
Over the years Moore has added racial discrimination to his appeal for justice.
As the basis for his claim that the justice system was racially biased, he points to the fact that Rich Nichols, his brother-in-law who was originally a suspect along with him as they had been together most of the day, including the time with Stevens and Hogan, was never charged.
Moore, Stevens and Hogan were native. Nichols was white.
The s. 696.1 (1) to which AIDWYC refers is, "An application for ministerial review on the grounds of miscarriage of justice may be made to the Minister of Justice by or on behalf of a person who has been convicted of an offence under an Act of Parliament."
I don't see anything there that calls for new evidence.
Even if it does require it, I believe an organization such as AIDWYC would have enough clout with the justice department that it could bring about the relief Moore seeks, which is now mainly to be able to lead a normal life.
As a convicted murderer, even though he has served his sentence he will be on parole for the rest of his life, which means he has to report to a parole officer at regular intervals and must always ask for permission to travel from his city or town of residence.
And if he gets into trouble of any kind, his parole could be revoked.
I don't think anyone expects that in every case where a law is changed or struck down that the justice system revisit all who were convicted under it, since in most cases it would involve people convicted of crimes not involving a life sentence who have already served their time and have moved on with their life.
But I believe that an exception should be made in a situation such as that facing Moore or any others still alive who were caught under the law as it stood.
As for AIDWYC, I think it dropped the ball in Moore's case, its focus too narrow.
But then that is maybe because I have always considered it to be a stronger fighter for justice for the wrongly convicted than it really is.
Doug Millroy, editor emeritus of The Sault Star, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.