CALGARY—Canada and a number of other countries have joined the crusade to raise awareness and highlight the dangers and consequences of wrongful convictions.
David Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and was in Calgary on Thursday to launch the first annual International Wrongful Conviction Day.
Milgaard was 16 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of the 1969 murder of Saskatoon nursing aide Gail Miller.
Milgaard and his mother, Joyce, fought for years to prove his innocence and he was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.
Serial rapist Larry Fisher was convicted of the crime in 1999.
Milgaard was eventually paid $10 million in compensation by the Saskatchewan government, which held an inquiry into the case.
“It was a nightmare,” Milgaard said Thursday. “People do not have much love and care inside those walls.”
He said there are too many political scandals and corruption for society to ignore, adding it reflects badly on all Canadians when the wrongfully convicted are failed.
“We must do all we can do to help them,” said Milgaard. “The question is, are our prisons working? Is the justice model that’s inside our prisons, is it actually working to help the community or is it actually failing the community? There are many different justice models in this world that function a whole lot better than our Canadian system.”
Calgary lawyer Greg Rodin represented Milgaard in his civil suit against police and prosecutors and said International Wrongful Conviction Day is an opportunity to inform and educate the public.
“Today we bring into focus as individuals, as a nation and as an international community the tragedy of wrongful conviction,” Rodin said. “We think about the pain and suffering of those who are stigmatized and loathed as perpetrators of often the most heinous of crimes when in fact they are innocent.”
He said no justice system is perfect but the laws that are passed and the policies and procedures that are implemented in the criminal justice system can safeguard against wrongful convictions.
“We must take all necessary steps to ensure that the criminal justice system is designed and operated to uphold the fundamental principal that we are all innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Rodin. “To ensure that we have a fair and unbiased process in place to identify cases of wrongful conviction where they do occur.”