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A convicted Manitoba murderer's 45-year fight to clear his name
Brian Anderson sits on a leather couch in the middle of his sparse Winnipeg apartment. The walls are stark white, save for a drawing taped up in the kitchen that his granddaughter made for his birthday.
Brian is 63 years old and speaks softly and thoughtfully, in a way that makes you lean in so you don’t miss anything. I’ve come to Winnipeg to hear his story, but also to show him something he’s never seen before: a W5 investigation that dates back to 1978.
We’re both tucked up on the couch watching as a youthful Lloyd Robertson introduces a documentary called "The Anderson Confession." Behind Lloyd in the studio is a larger-than-life photo of then 22-year-old Brian Anderson smiling in front of his jail cell.
The story itself is astonishing. Well before Indigenous rights and Truth and Reconciliation were a part of the national dialogue, correspondent Jim Reed exposed what, at the time, must have been shocking concepts: that police may lie, that the justice system sometimes gets it wrong, and that Indigenous people may be more vulnerable to the failures of the system.
Brian doesn’t say anything as he watches himself as a young man behind bars on the screen.
The story delves into the details of how, when he was 18, he was arrested for murder in Winnipeg, how there were serious questions about his “confession” to police, and how a prison teacher was launching a crusade to try to have his case reheard.
Back then, in 1978, there was hope that publicizing his story on television would trigger a new trial. It didn’t. Brian stayed in jail.
And now, here we are, W5 and Brian Anderson, 41 years later. This time, there is a new crusader, with the same mission. Innocence Canada, an organization that fights on behalf of the wrongfully convicted, has taken on the Anderson case.
Boxes of documents have just been filed to the Department of Justice’s Criminal Conviction Review Group. These last-ditch reviews are only granted after all appeals have been exhausted and if there are “matters of new significance.” Traditionally, that means presenting new evidence.
But Innocence Canada is taking the potentially precedent-setting stance that the “matters of new significance” in Brian Anderson’s case is what we now know about systemic racism in the Canadian criminal justice system.
Innocence Canada lawyer Jerome Kennedy has spent a year reviewing the Anderson file and tells W5 there is not one shred of physical evidence linking Brian to the crime; he had an alibi the night of the murder; his confession was fabricated by police.
“Brian Anderson is innocent. He spent 10 years in jail. He’s on parole for the rest of his life...he is a murderer in the eyes of our society. And why is he labelled a murderer? Because he’s a young Indigenous man in Winnipeg in 1973. I see no other reason,” said Kennedy.
Back on that couch in his Winnipeg apartment, Brian is silent when the W5 story from long ago ends. After a long pause, he says, “It’s hard to believe. I try to erase it out of my mind. But it’s there. It’s tattooed on my brain.”
For 45 years, Brian Anderson has maintained his innocence, and despite decades of disappointments, he has also held on to his hope that one day his name will be cleared: “It’ll happen. I know it’ll happen. I know it’ll happen.”
Watch 'Breaking Free' on Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV