A Winnipeg judge has granted bail to a First Nations man found guilty of murder in 1974, pending a decision from the federal justice minister to quash his conviction.
Clarence Woodhouse appeared in court Monday afternoon as his lawyers from Innocence Canada, a non-profit that advocates for people wrongly convicted of a crime, requested he be released from custody. Mr. Woodhouse, 72, was dressed in a blue long-sleeve shirt and slacks, and had slightly dishevelled grey and white hair.
Innocence Canada filed an application last month with Justice Minister Arif Virani for a ministerial review of Mr. Woodhouse’s conviction in the death of Ting Fong Chan.
Crown attorney Michele Jules told Manitoba Court of King’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey she consented to the release order.
“The Crown has communicated with the criminal conviction review committee. Our position in relation to the substance of the matter is that it is reasonable to find that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred,” Ms. Jules said.
In July, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of King’s Bench acquitted Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse in the death of Mr. Chan, a restaurant worker who was fatally stabbed in 1973 near a downtown construction site.
Justice Joyal said at the time that systemic and individual racial discrimination within the justice system played a part in the wrongful conviction of both men.
Innocence Canada maintains the prosecution’s case at Clarence Woodhouse’s trial depended on a confession that he was supposed to have made in fluent English, despite Saulteaux being the language he spoke.
A fourth person, Clarence Woodhouse’s brother Russell Woodhouse, was also convicted. He died in 2011.
“They were absolutely incapable of giving the statements that they gave, but that’s what convicted them. Without those statements, there was literally no evidence that they were involved in the murder,” said James Lockyer, a board member at Innocence Canada and one of the lawyers representing Clarence Woodhouse.
The group says Mr. Woodhouse testified that he was assaulted by Winnipeg police into signing a false confession, but the trial judge and the jury didn’t believe him.
“Let’s never forget the basis of this case started with the systemic racism that affected these men at all levels of the criminal justice system,” said Jerome Kennedy, another Innocence Canada board member and lawyer for Mr. Woodhouse.
Mr. Woodhouse is a member of Pinaymootang First Nation.
Mr. Anderson was released on parole in 1987 and Allan Woodhouse in 1990.
Clarence Woodhouse was released on parole in 1987, but it was revoked earlier this year in February. A publication ban at the bail hearing prevents disclosing details about why.
Innocence Canada said it has also filed a posthumous application on Russell Woodhouse’s behalf with the support of his surviving sister, Linda Anderson.
Linda Anderson was one of a handful of family members who supported Mr. Woodhouse in court on Monday.
She said when her two brothers were incarcerated, it was “as if they died.”
Ms. Anderson said she looks forward to spending time with her brother.
“Hugs and a cup of tea,” she said when describing the family’s next steps.
Brian Anderson, who is Woodhouse’s cousin, was also in attendance.
“I’m happy for him. It’s finally happening,” he told reporters.
Mr. Lockyer said he’s confident the justice minister will call for a retrial, adding he hopes to hear more on the ministerial review in the next couple of months.
In a statement, Mr. Virani acknowledged systemic discrimination and racism is a reality for many in Canada’s criminal justice system.
“We must make sure that Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized Canadians who have potentially been wrongfully convicted are able to have their cases reviewed in a fair and timely manner,” he said.
Mr. Virani did not respond to questions regarding the status of the ministerial review into Mr. Woodhouse’s case.