“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Since 2014, October 2nd has been proclaimed Wrongful Conviction Day in cities across Canada and around the world. What are wrongful convictions? How do they happen? Why do we need to set aside a special day?
To many people just the thought of jails, detention centres and prisons is uncomfortable. Television, movies and books portray an image of a darkened world full of violence and mayhem that is disturbing to most people. There is a lack of respect and trust between all parties involved. Some people are of the opinion “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime.” It goes without saying that many people have little sympathy for incarcerated persons.
But what about the person who has been wrongfully convicted of an offence? What do we say to the person who did not “do the crime”? Wrongfully convicted people go through the same “jailhouse experience” as all offenders do. The experience for wrongfully convicted persons is even more traumatic than for other offenders because they have to be very careful who they divulge their innocence to for fear of retaliation from other inmates and staff. Wrongfully convicted persons who maintain their innocence throughout their incarceration often spend many years in prison with no prospect of being released because they will not “own up” to their charge. What do we say to them? The only thing that keeps the innocent person going is the hope that one day there will be a breakthrough in their case which will lead to their release into the community to rejoin their family and friends.
There are currently at least 86 cases of wrongful convictions in Canadian federal prisons. 270 people detained in Canada’s provincial detention centres have died over the past five years – two-thirds of them were legally innocent. How can this happen?
Wrongful convictions can happen to anyone at any time, none of us are immune. Some of the reasons are –
– false identification by a witness, with or without intent to cause harm
– income or social standing, race, faith group, level of education
– rush to solve the crime
– faulty or biased legal representation
– inadequate or faulty forensic testing
Wrongful convictions leads to breakdowns in family relationships and friendships, loss of employment and loss of status in the community. It can take years to re-establish these connections even after people have been exonerated.
Through Moses, God gave us the commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” Exodus 20:16. This is one of six commandments from God directing us on how we manifest our love for one another. To bear false witness, to give false testimony against another person can cause great harm to that person. Further, it is an act of disobedience against God. God is Truth, He cannot lie. Jesus His Son is “the way, the truth and the life”. We are created in God’s image. The Spirit of Truth dwells in us.
It is a long and difficult road to restore one’s relationships with loved ones and friends after having been wrongly accused. It would be far better to not have to travel down that road in the first place. As members of society and particularly as Christians, we must be vigilant in preventing this perversion of justice continuing to take place.
So, on October 2nd – “Let us remember those who have been wrongfully convicted and who sit in the darkened world of prisons as if we were one of them. Then let us help them to restore their dignity, as they work towards proving their innocence.”
Deacon Sharon Dunlop
St. James’ Anglican Church, Kingston