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Doer pledges 'a day of reckoning'

Justice officials may face inquiry

Gary Doer

Premier Gary Doer is promising to hold justice officials to account for any mistakes made in the James Driskell murder case.

"There is going to be a day of reckoning," Doer vowed in an interview yesterday. "Not only for the accused, but also for the people in the justice system. I have some serious questions about what happened here and things cannot improve if there is no accountability.

"There will be accountability here."

Doer said he expects an independent public inquiry will be needed to hold the system accountable for its mistakes.

The premier was on the hot seat in the legislature again yesterday for his government's response to new evidence in the Driskell case.

The opposition attacked the government for sitting on growing evidence of a miscarriage of justice, and doing nothing about it.

Tory Leader Stuart Murray said he welcomed Doer's hint an independent inquiry will be held, but would like a firmer commitment from the premier about exactly when and how the case will be reviewed.

"If he's committed to a public inquiry, he should call it today," said Murray.

For more than a year, Manitoba Justice denied there was enough new evidence to warrant a new trial for Driskell.

However on Monday, after a Court of Queen's Bench decision releasing Driskell on bail, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh reversed his position and asked the federal government to send the case back to a Manitoba court for review as soon as possible.

Doer said he wants to make sure the issue of Driskell's guilt or innocence is settled once and for all.

Once that issue is addressed, he said it's almost inevitable that an inquiry will be needed to examine the role of police and prosecutors who, it has been revealed, withheld evidence that could have won Driskell a new trial.

Lawyer James Lockyer, a Toronto lawyer and director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, said he was thrilled with Doer's comments, which indicate that Manitoba is taking the lead among all provinces in addressing wrongful convictions head on.

"I think this shows tremendous commitment on the part of the Manitoba government to the cause of the wrongly convicted," Lockyer said.

Driskell was convicted in June 1991 of killing his friend, Perry Dean Harder. Convicted without a confession, a witness or a murder weapon, Driskell has always maintained his innocence.

New evidence uncovered in his case showed key witnesses were paid for their testimony and given immunity from prosecution for other crimes, but that none of these details were ever presented to the jury. The Winnipeg Police Service also possessed new evidence never revealed to a jury or Driskell's lawyers, including proof a key witness tried to recant after the trial.

The federal government has launched a full investigation of Driskell's case on the basis that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred. Driskell was released on bail last week after Justice John Scurfield of Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench determined that the new evidence was so compelling it would be unconstitutional to allow him to remain behind bars.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said the fact prosecutors in Driskell's case were also involved in allegations of misconduct in the Thomas Sophonow case should be reason enough to prepare for a judicial inquiry.

"It's quite clear that there are serious concerns about the systemic problems which have been acknowledged in other cases," said Gerrard. "If Manitobans' faith in the justice system is to be restored, it will have to be through a public inquiry."

In raising the model of the Sophonow inquiry, Doer is committing himself to an ambitious effort and dredging up some very painful issues for Manitoba Justice.

It took former Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory nearly nine months and more than $3 million to investigate police and prosecutors involved in the Sophonow debacle. In the end, Sophonow was awarded $2.3 million in compensation.

The Sophonow inquiry also raised significant questions about senior members of the provincial Justice department who were also deeply involved in the Driskell prosecution.

Three members of Manitoba Justice who prosecuted Sophonow in the 1980s -- George Dangerfield, Stu Whitley and Greg Lawlor -- were also involved in the Driskell case. The trio of prosecutors were all found to have failed in their obligations to disclose key evidence to Sophonow's lawyers, which contributed to his wrongful conviction.

All three were involved in the Driskell case and have become the subject of new allegations of failure to disclose evidence.

The three prosecutors, along with former director of prosecutions Bruce Miller -- now a provincial court judge -- were given evidence prior to Driskell's appeal indicating Winnipeg police offered a key witness a secret immunity deal in a Saskatchewan arson, and that the witness committed perjury while testifying against Driskell.

Meanwhile, Driskell himself is relaxing and trying to enjoy his first few days of freedom. A spokesman for Driskell said he has been inundated with requests for media interviews, and has been forced to refuse many just to rest from his ordeal last week.

The media attention also forced Driskell to postpone a bit of housekeeping -- the recovery of his personal belongings from Rockwood Institution, the minimum-security annex located beside Stony Mountain Penitentiary. Driskell said in an earlier interview he did not take any personal items with him when he went to court last Friday for his bail hearing.

The last week has also been difficult for the family of Perry Harder. Tanis Harder, Perry's sister, said in an interview from British Columbia she is not making any public pronouncements on Driskell's case while more work is done to assess his claims of innocence.

Harder said she was shocked to hear Driskell had been released, but would like to read the judge's decision before commenting any further.