Sandals asks legislature to consider compensation for Truscott

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.”