Guelph MPP Liz Sandals tabled a private member’s motion in the legislature on April 17 seeking support from MPPs for compensation for Steven Truscott.
The motion states, “That in the opinion of this house, given the unique circumstances in the case of Steven Truscott, who was unanimously acquitted of murder by the Ontario Court of Appeal, the province of Ontario should provide compensation to Mr. Truscott in recognition of the miscarriage of justice from which he has suffered for almost 50 years.”
Although the physical evidence that could have exonerated Truscott through DNA testing was destroyed in 1967, the court of appeal agreed that fresh scientific evidence showed conclusively that Truscott’s 1959 conviction depended on an unreliable finding of fact.
Sandals’ motion will be debated on May 29. At that time, members from all parties will be able to comment.
“Canadian criminal law has no mechanism for issuing a declaration of innocence and no statutory regime for determining compensation,” said Sandals. “That is why I am proposing the Ontario legislature provide guidance in the matter of compensation for Truscott.” She added, “I have no idea what the amount would be.”
Truscott was 14 when he was charged and convicted for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper near Clinton, in 1959. The time from his arrest to his being sentenced to death was a matter of months. That sentence was reduced to life in prison in 1960. In 1969, he was granted parole and released from prison.
The federal Minister of Justice found several years ago that there was a “reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred” and referred the Truscott case to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which then ruled in Truscott’s favour last August, declaring that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, setting aside the conviction, and acquitting Truscott.
At the time of the acquittal, then Attorney General Michael Bryant appointed Sydney Robins, a retired judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal, to advise the government on the issue of compensation.
Sandals said in an interview Robins is going to be providing one form of advice that current Attorney General Chris Bentley will be receiving about the case, and that the legislature, through her private member’s bill, is another way for him to gain information. She noted that the case is unique, with the victim of a miscarriage of justice waiting nearly 50 years to clear his name.
“In this particular case, there has been huge public interest – certainly in Guelph and Wellington,” because Truscott had moved to the city anonymously, raised a family, and then in the early 2000s, came forward to clear his name.
Others convicted of similar crimes and who spent years in jail, as Truscott did, have received varying amounts in compensation. All through the judicial process of seeking to have the conviction overturned, Truscott was adamant that he was not doing it for monetary gain – and that is the case now.
“Did Truscott ask me to do this? Absolutely not,” said Sandals.
“I approached the Truscott family and said, ‘This is what I would like to do.’ I even approached his lawyer to ensure I was not interfering in any other process.”