Overturned convictions in Canada

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This is a list of notable overturned convictions in Canada.

Robert Baltovich[edit]

Robert Baltovich was convicted in March 1992 of the murder of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, in Scarborough. Bain disappeared on June 19, 1990, after telling her mother she was going to "check the tennis schedule" on campus. On June 22, her car was found with a large bloodstain in the back seat, but her body was never found.

Baltovich consistently maintained his innocence throughout the trial and his lawyers suggested that the so-called "Scarborough Rapist", who was later identified as serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo, might be responsible for the murder. He was nonetheless convicted and served eight years in prison until Baltovich's lawyers appealed, after which Baltovich was released on bail in March 2001. In December 2004, the Court of Appeal for Ontario set aside the conviction. In 2005, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney-General announced that Baltovich would face a new trial on charges of second-degree murder, at an unspecified date, but the trial never took place. With no Crown case, the judge directed the jury to make a finding of not guilty on April 22, 2008.[1]

James Driskell[edit]

James Driskell was convicted for the first-degree murder of Perry Harder, whose remains were found in a shallow grave outside Winnipeg, three months after his disappearance. Driskell was linked to the crime with three hairs found in his van that supposedly belonged to Harder, but DNA tests years later found that the hairs did not belong to the victim.

In 2005, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Irwin Cotler used a special Criminal Code of Canada provision to quash the conviction, stay the charges, and order a new trial for Driskell, but the Manitoba Department of Justice decided not to order a new trial. It instead entered a stay of proceedings and called for a public inquiry, ending Driskell's conviction without exonerating him.[2]

Anthony Hanemaayer[edit]

Anthony Hanemaayer was charged for breaking and entering, and alleged assault with a weapon against a 15-year-old girl at her home in Scarborough on September 29, 1987.[3] During the trial in 1989, the Crown decided to withdraw the assault charges, however, Hanemaayer was still convicted and sentenced for breaking and entering charges. Hanemaayer pleaded guilty to avoid a lengthy prison sentence, and was sentenced to two years less a day in a provincial reformatory. He was released in June 1990 after serving sixteen months in prison, including eight months in pre-trial detention.

At the time of the attack in 1987, the Scarborough area was being plagued by the so-called 'Scarborough Rapist', who was later identified as serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo. Bernardo was convicted of numerous sexual assaults in Scarborough, sexual assaults elsewhere, and the murders of three girls he committed with his wife Karla Homolka.

In 2006, Bernardo confessed to the 1987 assault and provided a detailed account to investigating officers, who also interviewed Hanemaayer several weeks later but did not inform him of Bernardo's confession. Hanemaayer became aware of Bernardo's confession in late 2007, after which he appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in June 2008. As a result, the court cleared Hanemaayer of the convictions and Justice Rosenberg stated that "it is profoundly regrettable that errors in the justice system led to this miscarriage of justice and the devastating effect it has had on Mr. Hanemaayer and his family."

In June 2010, Hanemaayer commenced a $1.1 million lawsuit for damages suffered as a result of his 1989 conviction for the assault. The courts made a decision not to compensate him, however.[4]

Ivan Henry[edit]

Ivan Henry was convicted of multiple sexual assaults in Vancouver, Canada from 1980 to 1982. Similar assaults continued while he was jailed, leading to further investigation by police. His conviction was overturned in 2010. Henry was imprisoned for 27 years.

Réjean Hinse[edit]

Réjean Hinse was convicted for aggravated robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his alleged part in the armed robbery in December 1961 of a general store in Mont-Laurier, Québec. He campaigned to establish his innocence based on the fact that he had been in Montreal, over two hundred kilometres away, at the time the crime was committed. In 1997 he was acquitted by the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to convict him of aggravated robbery. Hinse was awarded $13.1 million compensation, payable by the Quebec and Canadian Federal governments, the largest wrongful conviction award in Canadian history.[5]

Donald Marshall, Jr.[edit]

Donald Marshall, Jr., at the time 17, was convicted of murdering acquaintance Sandy Seale in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison. The two had confronted Roy Ebsary, an older man they encountered in Wentworth Park in Sydney, Nova Scotia, during the late evening with the intent to "roll a drunk". A short scuffle occurred and Seale fell mortally wounded by a knife blow. Ebsary admitted that he had stabbed Seale but then lied about his role to the police who immediately focused on Marshall, who was 'known to them' from previous incidents.

Marshall spent 11 years in jail before being acquitted by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in 1983. A witness came forward to say he had seen another man stab Seale, and several prior witness statements pinpointing Marshall were recanted. Ebsary was subsequently tried and convicted of manslaughter.[6]

Martensville satanic sex scandal[edit]

The Martensville satanic sex scandal occurred in Martensville, Saskatchewan, in 1992 where a mother alleged that a local woman who ran a babysitting service and day care centre in her home had sexually abused her child. Police began an investigation and allegations began to snowball. More than a dozen persons, including five police officers from two different forces, ultimately faced over 100 charges connected with running a Satanic cult called The Brotherhood of The Ram, which allegedly practiced ritualized sexual abuse of numerous children at a "Devil Church".

The son of the day care owner was tried and found guilty, but a new investigation concluded that the original trial was motivated by 'emotional hysteria.' In 2003, defendants sued for wrongful prosecution. In 2004, Ron and Linda Sterling received $924,000 in reparations.[7]

David Milgaard[edit]

David Milgaard[8] was convicted of raping and murdering 20-year-old nursing assistant Gail Miller in 1969. When she was found on a snowbank, Milgaard and his friends, Ron Wilson and Nichol John, were picking up their friend, Albert Cadrain. Tipped off by Cadrain, who admitted he was mostly interested in the $2,000 reward for information, British Columbia police arrested Milgaard in May 1969 and sent him back to Saskatchewan where he was charged with Miller's murder. Cadrain testified that he had seen Milgaard return the night of Miller's murder in blood-stained clothing.

Both Wilson and John were also called to testify against him. They had told police that they had been with Milgaard the entire day and that they believed him to be innocent, but they changed their stories for the court. Wilson later recanted his testimony claiming that he had been told he was personally under suspicion and wanted to alleviate the pressure on himself. Milgaard was sentenced to life in prison in January 1970.

Milgaard appealed his conviction several times, but was blocked both by bureaucracy and by a justice system unreceptive to those who were not willing to admit their guilt. But in July 1997, a DNA laboratory in the United Kingdom released a report confirming that semen samples on the victim's clothing did not originate with Milgaard—for all intents and purposes clearing Milgaard of the crime. The Saskatchewan government then apologized for the wrongful conviction, and Larry Fisher was arrested days later. Fisher had been living in Cadrain's basement at the time of the murder.

Guy Paul Morin[edit]

Guy Paul Morin was a suspect in the October 1984 rape and murder of his 9-year-old next-door neighbour, Christine Jessop. Morin was found not guilty of murder at his first trial in 1986, but convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at his second trial after the Crown appealed. Improvements in DNA testing led to a test in 1995 which excluded Morin as the murderer, after which Morin's appeal of his conviction was allowed (i.e., the conviction was reversed), and a directed verdict of acquittal entered in the appeal. Morin is 100% exonerated with the discovery, in 2020, of Jessop's murderer

Willie Nepoose[edit]

Willie Nepoose was convicted in 1987 for the 1986 murder of Rose Marie Desjarlais. In 1992 the conviction was overturned when it was discovered one of the witnesses had perjured herself, the police had not disclosed some evidence, and evidence was discovered that he was with his brothers in a hotel at the time of the murder.

Roméo Phillion[edit]

Roméo Phillion was convicted of the 1967 murder of Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy, after making a confession to police which he recanted two hours later. He spent 31 years in prison and five years on parole. The case was reopened in 2006, and in March 2009, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned his 1972 murder conviction and granted him a new trial, in part because a 1968 police report establishing a clear alibi for Phillion had not been turned over to his defence lawyer in his original trial.

Thomas Sophonow[edit]

Thomas Sophonow was tried three times in the 1981 murder of doughnut-shop clerk Barbara Stoppel. Sophonow spent four years imprisoned but was acquitted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 1985.

Steven Truscott[edit]

Steven Truscott, at the time 14, was convicted in 1959 for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper. Truscott was initially sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to life imprisonment. He continued to maintain his innocence until 2007, when his conviction was declared a miscarriage of justice and he was formally acquitted of the crime. On July 7, 2008, the government of Ontario awarded him $6.5 million in compensation.

William Mullins-Johnson[edit]

William Mullins-Johnson, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario was found guilty of the first-degree murder of his niece, Valin Johnson, after a two and half week trial in September 1994. He was convicted after a jury trial in which now-disgraced forensic pathologist Charles Smith's evidence played a major role in determining the time of death, the cause of death, and whether the girl had been sexually assaulted. Mullins-Johnson had babysat Valin, 4, and her 3-year-old brother on the evening of June 26, 1993. When the girl's mother returned home, she did not check on her daughter. At 7 a.m. the next day she found Valin dead in bed.

A local pathologist performed an autopsy on Valin. Then "consultation reports" were sought from Smith and four other specialists, based on tissue samples and other evidence from the autopsy. Smith was the only consultant to conclude Valin was sexually assaulted at the time of death. That contradicted the defence's point that Valin, who had a history of vomiting in bed, might have died of natural causes. The jury convicted, which the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld in 1996. The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a further appeal in 1998.

Attempts were made to clear his name based on available DNA technology, but the tissue could not be located by Smith, who was given the evidence by the pathologist who did the autopsy, until 2005, 11 years after the trial, when the missing tissue samples turned up in Smith’s office. William Mullins-Johnson was released on bail in 2005, pending review of his case. On July 16, 2007, a report by three expert pathologists (written unbeknownst to the lawyers working on his behalf) determined there was no evidence that the girl was sexually assaulted, and the Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant said that William Mullins-Johnson's conviction “cannot stand” and that he should be acquitted by the appeals court. On October 15, 2007 he was acquitted by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In 2010, five years after filing a $13 million lawsuit for wrongful conviction, Mullins-Johnson and the Government of Ontario reached a $4.25 million out-of-court settlement.


  1. ^ "Not Guilty". CBC News. 2008-04-22. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  2. ^ "James Driskell". CBC News. 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  3. ^ https://www.aidwyc.org/cases/historical/anthony-hanemaayer/
  4. ^ "Hanemaayer Lived Kafkaesque Nightmare For 20 Years". CityNews.ca. 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2018-08-05.
  5. ^ "Nearly 50 Years Later, Réjean Hinse Obtains Compensation for Wrongful Conviction". CNW - Canada Newswire. 2011-04-14. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  6. ^ "Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr, Prosecution" (PDF). Lieutenant Governor in Council. December 1989. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  7. ^ "Martensville Scandal". The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon). 2006-06-24. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  8. ^ "Commission of Inquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaard". Archived from the original on 2014-06-03.