The federal government has proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that would establish an independent commission, known as “David and Joyce Milgaard’s Law,” to review cases of individuals who may have been wrongfully convicted and decide if their cases should be reviewed. This commission would replace Canada’s existing ministerial review process, which is handled by the Criminal Conviction Review Group within the federal justice department.
Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti introduced the proposed legislation in the House of Commons on Feb. 16, calling it a “critical step forward” in preventing wrongful convictions. He said that the existing system for reviews of potentially wrongful convictions hasn’t changed in over 20 years and that the commissioners appointed to run the independent commission would “be required to reflect Canada’s diversity and to take into account the over-representation of certain groups in the criminal justice system, such as indigenous peoples and black persons.”
Applicants who would seek to have their cases reviewed by the commission would first need to exhaust all their other rights of appeal before they can apply. The commission would not decide if an applicant is guilty or innocent, but instead, if a miscarriage of justice may have occurred and is in the interest of justice, it will grant a remedy, such as ordering a new trial or new appeal. Only the courts have the power to overturn a conviction.
The justice department acknowledged that miscarriages of justice, such as the one experienced by David Milgaard, are rare. “All people in Canada must have confidence that the justice system is there to protect them and that it can be trusted,” it said.