By MATTHEW COUTO
Canadian Romeo Phillion was imprisoned for 32 years for a crime he did not commit.
Phillion was convicted of first-degree murder in 1972, but when it was discovered that his alibi – a key piece of evidence – had been buried during the initial trial, he was granted a second one and was found innocent.
Phillion was one of four panelists that spoke at the Wrongful Conviction and Injustice Association of Carleton’s fourth annual conference on wrongful conviction.
Now 73 years old and battling emphysema, Phillion says he has no faith left in the justice system but still urged the students in attendance to learn from the mistakes made by past generations.
“Do your jobs well and do them honestly,” he said.
The other panelists were Senator Anne Cools, Carleton criminology professor Darryl Davies, and Jamie Nelson – who was wrongly convicted of rape.
The event took place at the Minto Centre’s Bell Theatre on Carleton University’s campus Sept. 29 in an ongoing attempt by the association to spread awareness about the issue of wrongful conviction.
After an introduction from president and co-founder Kelly Lauzin, the panelists each gave a brief speech then answered questions from Lauzin and the audience.
Cools began the event talking about her political work in opening discourse about the issue of false accusations in domestic cases, specifically during disputes over custody of children.
She said there still isn’t enough attention given to the issue.
“The measurement of any society is how we treat accused people,” said Cools.
“Anyone wrongfully convicted is a spot upon us all. It offends all of us.”
Davies’ address focused on criticisms and solutions for our justice system, including how wrongful conviction starts with police who have used eye-witness reports to determine entire cases.
“We have to train our officers so they avoid tunnel vision,” said Davies.
Nelson recounted his story, saying a woman he described as a pathological liar, Cathy Fordham, falsely accused him of assault and rape during the custody dispute with his ex-wife.
Nelson partly blamed the criminal code which does not require corroboration, making Fordman’s accusation enough for police to warrant an arrest at gunpoint and initiate a trial.
“I can honestly say that I am the only person in Canada who has been wrongly convicted twice,” Nelson said, who was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years.
Phillion is currently launching a $14 million law suit against the Ontario government for his wrongful conviction, citing an alleged conspiracy from now-retired detectives to convict him.