SCC: Wrongfully convicted man can sue for damages
Andy Johnson, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Friday, May 1, 2015 9:57AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 1, 2015 7:33PM EDT
A man who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault and spent 27 years behind bars has been given the right to sue his prosecutors, but Ivan Henry says he is more concerned about clearing his name than any financial compensation he might receive.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday that the B.C. man can use the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to launch legal steps against provincial and federal attorneys, municipal authorities and Vancouver police for withholding key evidence that could have helped exonerate him.
The landmark ruling by the country's highest court clarified the circumstances under which prosecutors can be sued for failing to disclose evidence to those accused of a crime.
The ruling means Henry, now 67, can sue for a financial payout to compensate for the decades he spent behind bars.
"I don't know that the money is as important as the conclusion -- not so much the innocence but something similar in that fashion, that I can go to sleep and die and know that justice was served the proper way," Henry told CTV News Channel on Friday.
Henry was convicted of three counts of rape, two counts of attempted rape and five counts of indecent assault in 1983. The alleged assaults were against eight victims in Vancouver. Henry was declared to be a dangerous offender.
But in 2010, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the convictions, stating that prosecutors failed to fully disclose evidence to Henry's legal team.
The appeals court heard the evidence, which related to another offender who was implicated in 29 cases and lived close to Henry.
Henry had sought to move forward with a lawsuit without having to prove that the prosecutors had malicious intent when they withheld the evidence -- the standard that has traditionally been in place in such cases.
Justice Michael Moldaver of the Supreme Court said Friday in his judgement that malice did not need to be proven. However, Moldaver did lay out criteria to govern how the legal test should be applied.
"This represents a high threshold for a successful charter damages claim, albeit one that is lower than malice," he wrote.
Under the new test, Henry would have to prove not that prosecutors withheld evidence maliciously, but that they did so intentionally, and that his ability to make a full defence was negatively affected as a result.
Michael Shapray, a criminal defence attorney, said that shouldn't be difficult in this case because the evidence was in the prosecutor's file, it simply wasn't shared with Henry.
On Friday Henry said he wasn't feeling "exhilarated, but certainly close to that" after hearing the ruling.
He said he plans to take a few months to rest, enjoy the summer weather and "get a little sun on my face and just sort of relax and take it in, calm myself and wait for the trial date."
"There's a lot of people that worked really hard on my behalf and I'm very humbled towards them, especially the Supreme Court of Canada. I'm very pleased at what they did -- it wasn't just an easy decision it was something very, very calculated," Henry told CTV News Channel.