Truscott family guests of honour at Justice Studies launch

Monday, November 9, 2009

  • Steven Truscott and members of his family attended the launch of a Justice Studies Initiative at the University of Guelph names

    Steven Truscott and members of his family attended the launch of a Justice Studies Initiative at the University of Guelph names

Written by Sara Dunstan

The University of Guelph formally launched the Truscott Initiative in Justice Studies with a panel discussion on the issues surrounding wrongful convictions in Canadian criminal law.

About 300 people attended the forumin Rozanski Hall, which marked the first time Steven Truscott and his family have attended a public event since the Ontario Court of Appeals overturned Truscott's conviction in 2007 for a murder committed five decades previously.

Steven Truscott was joined by his wife Marlene and second eldest son Ryan, defense lawyer Hersh Wolch, former federal justice minister Irwin Colter and Mac Stienburg, a prison chaplain who worked at the prison where Steven spent his youth after being found guilty of murdering classmate Lynne Harper in 1959.

“There is no greater privilege than to play a role in another person’s life," noted Steinburg, who fondly recalled talking to Truscott as a boy about his family and future ambitions.

Truscutt was a 13-year-old living in Clinton, Ontario when he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged for Harper's murder.

Truscott's sentence was later commuted to life in prison and he was sent to Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston to serve out his term.

Steinburg befriended Truscot at Collings Bay, where the two formed what would become a lifelong friendship; Steinburg assisted with Truscott's parole application and let the young man move in with him after he was released from prison in 1969.

Setinburg later oversaw the marriage between Steven and Marlene in 1970. The coupled later settled in Guelph to live a semi-anonymous life, raising three children.

Cotler, who as Justice Minister ordered a review of the case in 2004, gave Marlene credit for keeping her husband's hope of clearing his name alive.

“In my view, a heroine in all this is Marlene Truscott,” he said to loud applause. “Steven had a wife who always advocated for justice to be done.”

Following a review of the evidence, the Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted Truscott, determining that there had been a miscarriage of justice He was later awarded $6.5 million in compensation by the Ontario government

The Truscott case helped bring wrongful convictions to public attention during a time when they were “not really on the legal radar screen,” Cotler said. He admitted that he didn't consider them to be a big issue at the time of the appeal.

In contrast, he said his son, who is studying law, told him that living through the Truscott case had deeply impacted a generation of young lawyers.

Wolch, who has been involved in more than half a dozen high-profile wrongful conviction cases, said the Truscott case encountered many of the roadblocks that exist in identifying miscarriages in the justice system.

Truscott and Marlene spoke only briefly, thanking the audience, fellow panelists, and the various people who they felt helped them on their way in the pursuit of justice; among them Julian Sher, CBC’s the fifth estate producer and author of Until You Are Dead: Steven Truscott’s Long Ride Into History, the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted and Paul Steckle, former Member of Parliament for Huron County.

Ryan Truscott, 34, gave his parents credit showing up at every assembly, school trip and recital despite having the conviction hanging over their heads.

“They were just always there … advocating for our success,” Ryan said.

He said he hoped that Justice Studies program would help prevent other families from going through a similar experience.

CanWest Ottawa Bureau Chief and U of G Alumni David Akin moderated the event, intended as a fundraiser to support public lectures, scholarships and, ultimately, a new Knowledge Exchange Chair that will be held by a succession of experts.

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