The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada

Posted: October 3, 2011 by grewal04 in Police Role in Wrongful Convictions
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The role of police in wrongful convictions has been a heated debate for many years in Canada. Several high-profile cases have been in the media involving wrongful convictions in our courts. Following these cases, several high-end inquiries have taken place that have looked into the circumstances that produced these wrongful convictions, including police negligence, wrongdoing, and tunnel vision. One of the major aspects of wrongful convictions is tunnel vision; which is when the police focus their investigation towards one individual, and tend to forget about other possible suspects. They focus all their man power into convicting one person of interest while completely forgetting about other possibilities.
A wrongful conviction is exactly how it sounds, someone is wrongfully convicted of a crime that they did not commit, and the actual perpetrator is out there with his/her freedom. There have been many wrongful convictions that have made it to the spotlight, there are probably hundreds of others that still are forgotten. Many of these convictions were during the pre-DNA era, prior to the use of DNA testing. This is a common trend through many of the wrongful convictions that have occurred in Canada’s history. Many people were wrongfully convicted due to misconduct and lack of knowledge by the police.
While conducting an initial Google search on the topic “The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada”, a number of interesting cases emerged. Several articles, some up to 90 pages in length, are present, and help showcase some of the reasons behind the wrongful convictions. Some of these articles including “Wrongful Convictions: The Effect of Tunnel Vision and Predisposing Circumstances in the Criminal Justice System” by Bruce MacFarlane give some insight into tunnel vision experienced by the police. Where they focus only on one suspect and work extremely hard to put them behind bars while forgetting about potential others.
Another result was a news article published by CBC news that highlights some major cases in Canadian history. It looks at twelve cases throughout Canada’s history and gives a brief description followed by an outcome. This article is written from the media’s perspective and no comments from the police are noted. Along with the other results this one is fairly recent, only a year old. It helped broaden my search on the topic by focusing on some of the major convictions that were overturned due to them being wrongful. It also gave me a case list of potential exploration on the topic for the future.
An interesting case that was found during the preliminary research done on the topic is the case of Ivan Henry. Ivan Henry was convicted of a number of sexual assaults in the 1980’s in Vancouver, and has spent 27 years in prison because of it. One of the key points resulting in his conviction was the victims identifying him from a photograph of a police line-up. Here is the photograph: Ivan Henry Police Lineup
One can clearly see why the victims chose him, because he is the one in a headlock and appears to be wild, unlike the other suspects who are all police officers with smiles on their faces. Now the question arises why were the police officers allowed to unjustly play games with this man’s future? It is clear that they are not taking their occupation seriously in this manner, and should have been reprimanded for their actions. These types of stories highlight the role of police in wrongful convictions. Some police officers engage in misconduct and have the potential to jeopardize the life’s of innocent citizens.
Another interesting case and the only Wikipedia link in the results was the case of Donald Marshall Jr. Though it was fairly short it provided some insight into the case, and gave another example of the role of police in wrongful convictions. In this case the police had a predetermined notion that Marshall was the killer. Even though the true killer had admitted to the stabbing, he later lied about his role to police. Donald Marshall Jr. was already known to police and therefore the police focused on him and became victims of tunnel vision focusing just on him and not other possible suspects. Unfortunately for Mr. Marshall he was released after serving 11 years of his prison sentence, which was life imprisonment. If it was not for a witness coming forward it is still possible the Mr. Marshall could still be in prison. A majority of the results where articles that were written by University professors, and a couple of media articles but none of them had any response from the police in them. None of the search results yielded a police apology or mentioned any investigation to be completed.

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    Good post!

    Several of the most recent Canadian articles on wrongful convictions have attempted to move beyond the case level (and beyond case-specific discussions of tunnel vision) to explore the relationship between the organization, structure, and culture of policing and the phenomenon of wrongful convictions. What is it about policing as it is currently practiced that gives rise to cases of wrongful conviction? It will be interesting to hear your thoughts on these themes.

  2. steven says:

    I was reminded while reading this article that even police officers are people. They that want to help the victims and sometimes make mistakes when they let their ego and emotions take over their ethics and logic. This can be the case as to what may happen to many people that were wrongly imprisoned, a police officer believing that the suspect is guilty and tampering with the evidence or badgering the suspect to help ensure they confess or get convicted. There are different police roles and circumstances that produced these wrongful convictions, including police negligence, wrongdoing, and tunnel vision.

  3. Paulette says:

    Hi my fiance has been falsely chrgd by his ex he hasn’t seen for ovr 3yrs in court while she was in custody n she still loves and wants him bk but he clearly made tht clear to her,her family,thr daughter n thr social wrkr who he keeps in touch with for thr daughtr due to the fact shes in foster care n gets visits with us along with her oldr son up until a mth and a hf ago my fiance stopped visits with him because hes not the father so mad n upset n wanting him bk she chrgs him in anothr city he never went to n.
    I have witnesses who know he was in edmonton the day she chrgd him n shes got no proof but a recorded tape msg while my fiance and i have a good honest living life she will do wat it took to wreck that and i have sent proof of bills our rent receipts out insurance for our apt under both our names n people can vouch for him but i havent heard nythng yet frm that cop who chrgd him in high prairie n hes been in custody a wk now n not sur wat else to do n i
    know because we live togthr have been for ovr a yr n a hf n

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