Federal justice minister quashes murder conviction of Saulteaux man

Jeremy Skibicki

A First Nations man convicted of second-degree murder in Winnipeg has been acquitted after 50 years. Photo: APTN File

Canada’s justice minister has quashed the murder conviction of a Saulteaux man after Innocence Canada intervened in a 50-year-old Manitoba case.

Arif Virani said Tuesday he has ordered a new trial for Clarence Woodhouse, who is from Pinaymootang (Fairford) First Nation.

“There are reasonable grounds to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred,” Virani said in a news release.

“This is the result of the identification of new information that was not before the courts at the time of Mr. Woodhouse’s trial or appeal.”

Woodhouse, now in his 70s, was convicted in the 1973 killing of Tong Fong Chan, a 40-year-old cook who died after a severe beating in downtown Winnipeg. Woodhouse was sentenced to life in prison.

But “Mr. Woodhouse was not there when Mr. Chan was killed and had no involvement in the homicide,” said Innocence Canada in its own release. “Nevertheless, he was arrested and assaulted and forced to sign a false confession that he had murdered Mr. Chan.”

Woodhouse was convicted alongside brothers Allan and Russell Woodhouse and his cousin Brian Anderson. Allan and Anderson have since been exonerated thanks to Innocence Canada, which obtained ministerial reviews of their convictions that resulted in acquittals.

All four men had moved to Winnipeg from Pinaymootang First Nation, about 240 km northwest of Winnipeg, for work.

Manitoba Justice confirmed at the new trial for Allan and Anderson that their confessions were fabricated.

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“Clarence Woodhouse’s co-accused, his brother Russell Woodhouse, Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse were also assaulted by members of the Winnipeg Police Service and forced to sign their own confessions to murdering Mr. Chan,” Innocence Canada said in its release. “All four men proclaimed their innocence, but no one believed them.

“The nightmare continued and they went to trial for murder before an all-white jury. The police officers, the lawyers, and the judge were all white men.”

Read more:

Two Indigenous men acquitted of murder after 50 years

No date has been set for the new trial, where Innocence Canada lawyer James Lockyear expects Clarence to be acquitted.

“…His case, and the cases of his co-accused, raise important systemic issues that need to be addressed in Manitoba and across Canada,” Lockyer said in the Innocence Canada release.

“Innocence Canada looks forward to continue discussing with the Federal and Provincial Governments how to right the wrongs of our criminal justice system done to Indigenous peoples in the past, and preventing the same wrongs being done to Indigenous peoples in the future.”

Lockyer noted the prosecution was led by former Manitoba Crown attorney George Dangerfield, who has since become known for having the most wrongful convictions in all of Canada.

Innocence Canada has also asked for a posthumous review of Russell’s conviction because he died a few years ago.

Allan Woodhouse and Anderson filed lawsuits last spring against the federal and provincial governments seeking compensation for their wrongful convictions.

Meanwhile, Virani’s decision to order a new trial is not about the guilt or innocence of Woodhouse, Justice Canada added in its release. “It is a decision to return the matter to the courts where the relevant legal issues may be determined according to the law.”

A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice said the department had no comment now that the case was heading back before the courts.

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