A top legal scholar explains Canada’s national tragedy of wrongful convictions, how anyone could be caught up in them, and what we can do to safeguard justice.
Canada’s legal system has a serious problem: a significant but unknown number of people have been convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. There are famous cases of wrongful convictions, such as David Milgaard and Donald Marshall Jr., where the system convicted the wrong person for murder. But there are lesser-known cases: people who feel they have no option but to plead guilty, and people convicted of crimes that were imagined by experts or the police that never, in fact, happened.
Kent Roach, cofounder of the Canadian Registry of Wrongful Convictions, award-winning author, and law professor, has dedicated his illustrious career to documenting flaws in our justice system. His work reveals that the burden of wrongful convictions falls disproportionately on the disadvantaged, including Indigenous and racialized people, those with cognitive issues, single mothers, and the poor.
Wrongfully Convicted raises awareness about wrongful convictions at a time when DNA exonerations are less frequent and the memories of most famous wrongful convictions are fading. Roach makes a compelling case for change that governments have so far lacked the courage to make. They include better legislative regulation of police and forensic experts and the creation of a permanent and independent federal commission both to investigate wrongful convictions and their multiple causes.
Roach’s research and vast knowledge point to systemic failings in our legal system. But he also outlines vital changes that can better prevent and correct wrongful convictions. Until we do, many of the wrongfully convicted are still waiting for the promise of justice. It is an issue that affects all Canadians.