By Donna Laframboise, Toronto Star, 26 December 1995
Four weeks from today will be Guy-Paul Morin's first anniversary as a free man.
Last Jan. 23., after having hounded him for a decade, our criminal justice system admitted it had made a mistake. It acquitted him of first degree murder in the death of his 9-year-old neighbour, Christine Jessop, and apologized for damaging his life and the lives of his family.
Morin still hasn't received any financial compensation for those 10 lost years, nor has an inquiry into how matters could have gone so wrong commenced yet. But he is a patient man and, after having had lunch with him recently, I'm pleased to report he's also a well-adjusted one.
For the past nine months, Morin has been happily married. In a manner of speaking, The Toronto Star played matchmaker. A young woman named Allison Ferguson joined the Justice for Guy-Paul Morin committee after reading some of my columns following his wrongful conviction in 1992. They got to know one another when he was released on bail pending his appeal.
Last March, the couple boarded a ship out of Fort Lauderdale for a week-long Caribbean cruise. Away from the media attention, on a mountain top overlooking the ocean, they exchanged vows in what he describes as "the perfect wedding" - warm, sunny and private.
The irony of having wed a woman who works for the Metro Toronto Police department is something Morin himself jokes about, while declaring that "married life is good," and that he doesn't think he could be happier in his relationship.
Now 36, this past year has been the first in a decade in which he hasn't been compelled to reside with his parents. Recently, the couple became the proud owners of a puppy.
Having gained a few pounds, Morin looks robustly healthy. He's kept busily self-employed, performing maintenance on cars and boats, and undertaking small building projects. In an agreeable turn of the tables, many of the lawyers he met over the years are currently his clients.
He says a day rarely goes by in which he isn't recognized by members of the public. "They stop and talk to me. They usually wish me the best," he says. Others have harsh words for the justice system. "They say, 'It's just disgusting what happened to you. I'm appalled to know, as a Canadian citizen, that this could happen.'"
“he sometimes finds himself back in custody”
On another short trip to Las Vegas (this past year was also the first in a decade in which Morin was permitted to leave the province), people in a restaurant wished him well. They were fellow tourists from Winnipeg.
Morin spent a total of 18 months behind bars - in four different jails and two prisons. He was subjected to the indignity of innumerable strip searches and had his life threatened by other inmates. In his dreams, he sometimes finds himself back in custody, in a cold, damp cell fearing for his safety.
"There's something about the institution that one just doesn't forget," he says. "The sounds, the echoes; you hear them in your dreams. Other prisoners screaming out at night, crying. The slamming of doors and the keys in the guards' pockets. The rats squealing."
But he observes that other people have suffered worse than he has - in war, for example - and so tries not to dwell on the past. When I asked him what advice he'd give to fellow wrongly accused persons he replied, "Try to get on with life as best as you can. Don't get wrapped up in the craziness of it all."
“stigma of being an alleged child rapist will never fade completely”
Morin doesn't expect the stigma of being an alleged child rapist and murderer ever to fade completely. Nor is he convinced that the individual police officers and crown attorneys who pursued him so relentlessly have learned much from their errors. But then he shrugs, "I believe what goes around, comes around," he replies.
As for what he might be doing a decade from now, Morin says he developed the habit of not thinking too much about the future - since his remained so uncertain for so long - and is finding the pattern a hard one to break.
I met Morin for the first time three years ago, when I visited him in Kingston Penitentiary a few days before Christmas. His story, as I've watched it unfold, has been alarming, infuriating and disheartening.
But it has also been inspiring. In the face of obstinacy and narrow-mindedness, against what often seemed like formidable odds, justice has prevailed. A great wrong has been set right. An innocent man is now free.
For me, the Guy-Paul Morin story is an appropriate one for these holidays - because it demonstrates that while we sometimes lose our way, as a community we're also capable of redeeming ourselves.