The Long Road to Overturning a Wrongful Conviction in Canada

According to data from Canada’s Department of Justice, most wrongful conviction cases fail to make it past the first stage

In 1992, Maria Shepherd pleaded guilty to a crime she didn’t commit: killing her three-year-old stepdaughter. Her lawyer told her she didn’t stand a chance against the testimony of renowned pathologist Charles Smith. Knowing she could spend years in prison away from her young children if she fought and lost her case, Shepherd pleaded guilty to manslaughter and lived with a wrongful conviction on her record for 25 years.

Thanks to the lawyers who worked on her behalf and a public inquiry that discredited the doctor, Shepherd’s wrongful conviction was finally overturned in 2016 on appeal. Although she only spent eight months in prison, less than half of her two-year sentence, the consequences of her wrongful conviction stayed with her for decades.

Although Shepherd’s wrongful conviction was overturned on appeal, sometimes appeals can serve to cement a wrongful conviction instead of correct it. Recognizing this possibility for gross injustice, the Department of Justice has established a review process for people who have been wrongly convicted even after an appeal. These individuals can apply for ministerial review to get a new appeal or—in cases involving more egregious miscarriages of justice—a new trial.

While the road to exoneration may be long and winding, the destination is desolate. The last 15 years of data from the Department of Justice show that the vast majority of ministerial review applications are unsuccessful.

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The Outcome of This Obscure Lawsuit Could Undermine Constitutional Government

curious case about to be decided by the Supreme Court of Georgia could have profound implications for constitutional government in the United States.

In 2012, the state legislature passed a so-called “fetal pain law,” which bans abortions after 20 weeks and grants district attorneys access to patients’ medical records. Three doctors promptly filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that the law violates individuals’ privacy rights under the state constitution. Claiming “sovereign immunity” from litigation, officials in the state argued that its legislature cannot be sued by citizens who claim they have been harmed by its unconstitutional laws.

The case—Lathrop v. Deal—has taken five years to wind through the Georgia court system. In the process it has created some unlikely alliances among special interest groups—including a pro-gun group and human rights organizations—and sparked an intense debate about state immunity from citizens’ lawsuits.

According to one lawyer involved in the case, if the court sides with the state, the Bill of Rights will be subservient to the whims of the Georgia legislature.

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Why does this beer taste bad? Laws vary on clean taps in New England

HAVERHILL — A rookie line cleaner disconnected a keg, dismantled the faucet and keg coupler, and connected the cleaning can to one of the lines that link kegs to taps at the AMVETS bar here. Sporting a pair of protective rubber gloves, he ran an alkaline solution through the draft line and began washing the disassembled parts with the same teal-colored cleaner, while his more practiced colleague narrated like the voice-over of a surgical drama.

It was a routine draft-line cleaning — the first stop on the men’s route through Northern Massachusetts. While the faucets air-dried, military veteran Shaun Murphy described the microscopic beasts that breed in lines left unchecked. “I can walk into a place and smell whether the taps are clean,” said Murphy, who since 2013 has been cleaning lines for Tibs Taps, a company that installs and maintains draft beer systems; he placed his fingers under the water that now ran through the lines, turning from green to clear as the chemicals dissipated.

While rare, there has been at least one documented case in Massachusetts where a beer distributor failed to flush out the caustic cleaning solution from the draft lines, injuring a patron who suffered burns on her throat. Like the one that Tibs Taps uses, many cleaning solutions now contain color pigments to easily identify whether the lines are completely free from the solution before drawing beer from the tap.

Massachusetts law places responsibility on the bar or restaurant, rather than the distributor, for ensuring draft beer lines are clean and safe, but like similar laws in most states, the regulation is relatively unenforceable until an individual files a complaint or the business is subject to inspection.

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Cyber safety laws bullied into submission

Court ruling calls law inspired by the Rehtaeh Parsons suicide a “colossal failure,” raising new questions about policing online conduct

Cyberbullies returned to their keyboard crusades with a vengeance just days after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court struck down the province’s anti-cyberbullying law back in December, raising questions as to what extent the legal system should deal with cyberbullying, if at all.

Passed after the death of teen cyberbullying victim Rehtaeh Parsons, the 2013 Cyber-safety Act allowed judges to issue protection orders against online bullies and established CyberSCAN, an investigative unit working under the aegis of the province’s Department of Justice. The act offered a civil law option to handle cyberbullying.

In the wake of the Nova Scotia decision, and recent Ontario court rulings, the federal government is calling for proposals to evaluate cyberbullying – and possible intervention methods – across the country.

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Will Canada turn on or tune out to psychedelics as medicine?

Current studies on addiction, anxiety and depression are exploring the benefits of psilocybin and a variety of popular party drugs as possible therapies

Experimental research on psilocybin, the active compound responsible for the “magic” in magic mushrooms, suggests it has potential for treating alcohol and tobacco addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorder and end-of-life anxiety.

While these studies may signal good news for people who are resistant to other forms of treatment, most trials involve only 10 to 20 participants, which means that their clinical significance remains unproven until more research can corroborate their findings. That’s easier said than done.

UBC professor Mark Haden chairs the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is currently conducting a study administering MDMA to PTSD patients during psychotherapy sessions. Its hypothesis is that MDMA’s efficacy in treating PTSD may be due in part to its ability “to produce a sense of calming empowerment, not painful stress, as the individual reflects on the traumatic experience,” Haden says.

He explains that the study required “four years of back-and-forth with Health Canada” in order to receive approval. The research is subject to frequent government inspections, and the MDMA used in the study costs $75 per dose.

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Ontario’s Pit Bull Politics Still Howling a Decade After Breed Ban

Last weekend, a small group of people and their canine companions gathered in Queens Park to protest Ontario’s Pit Bull Ban. Ten years after the law was enacted, the number of protestors has diminished, but the number of pit bulls and dog bites in the province raise questions over the law’s effectiveness. What’s clear is that supporters and opponents of the ban remain firmly pitted against each other in the debate.

According to data from Toronto Animal Services (TAS), the total number of dog bites in Toronto has fluctuated throughout the decade, ranging from around 400 to 650 bites annually. While fatalities in Canada due to dogs are relatively rare, they do occur, and reports of serious injuries and mauling by vicious dogs are by any count tragic.

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