It was a grave miscarriage of justice that forced two men to languish behind bars for a crime they did not commit, and a Manitoba Grand Chief says she hopes the story of Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse will serve as a powerful reminder of what can happen when the justice system gets it wrong because of racism and discrimination.

A Winnipeg courtroom erupted in cheers on July 18, after Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of King’s Bench acquitted Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse, two First Nations men who were both sentenced to life in prison when they were teenagers for the killing of Ting Fong Chan, a restaurant worker who was stabbed to death in 1973 near a downtown Winnipeg construction site.

The men’s convictions were based largely on a signed confession given by Anderson to police, but the men’s lawyers have said Anderson didn’t know what he was signing at the time, and that English was not his first language.

Anderson and Woodhouse, who are both members of the Pinaymootang First Nation, proclaimed their innocence, were sentenced in 1974, and continued to claim their innocence for the next five decades.

And both men had years of their freedom stripped away, as Woodhouse was released from prison on parole in 1987, while Woodhouse was released on parole in 1990.

Joyal acquitted Anderson and Woodhouse last Tuesday, after federal Justice Minister David Lametti ordered a new trial earlier this year, saying there was “reasonable basis” to conclude both men were innocent.

Joyal said after handing down the acquittals that systemic racism had played a critical role in the men’s wrongful convictions in 1974.

After the acquittals, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), an organization that advocates for First Nations people and communities in Manitoba, said they hope Manitobans fully grasp the role that racism played in sending Anderson and Woodhouse to jail for a crime they did not commit.

“This case should serve as a reminder to all Canadians of the injustices faced by First Nations citizens within the Canadian judicial system,” AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said.

“Bringing about systemic change requires confronting uncomfortable truths about biases and racism that persist within the justice system.”

Merrick said she is now asking for more action by all levels of government to make progress on recommendations made more than 30 years ago in the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI) a report released back in 1991 that’s stated purpose was “to examine the relationship between the Aboriginal peoples of Manitoba and the justice system.

The report showed that there were gross inequalities throughout Manitoba’s criminal justice system that were negatively affecting Indigenous people in “grossly disproportionate numbers,” and Merrick said the convictions of Anderson and Woodhouse are just another example of that racism in the system.

“The momentous victory for justice should galvanize our resolve to continue pushing for reform and confronting systemic biases,” Merrick said.

“Systemic racism, as highlighted in the 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, remains a pressing issue. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs continues to call for transformative justice reform.”

Merrick also praised Anderson and Woodhouse for the resolve they showed while fighting for five decades to have the charges dropped, and their names cleared.

“Your strength and resilience have been noticed and admired,” Merrick said. “We stand with you, support you, and will continue to advocate for justice and equality for all First Nations citizens.

“Let this be a turning point in our fight for fairness and equality in the justice system.”

With files from the Canadian Press

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 24, 2023 at 15:35

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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