Toronto Star

Advocates for the wrongly convicted, lawyers, a forensic scientist and a police officer weigh in on how to fix the system


Experts agree that public inquiries into wrongful conviction­s have improved the reliabilit­y of forensic evidence in Canada. Investigat­ions into miscarriag­es of justice have produced dozens of recommenda­tions that have led to greater oversight and accreditat­ion of forensic experts, as well as better quality control at the Centre of Forensic Sciences, the provincial facility that does testing for all of Ontario’s investigat­ive agencies. But we still have a long way to go.

Alan Gold, Toronto criminal defence lawyer:

“For matching evidence — fingerprin­ts, footprints — the tester should be given a lineup of similar samples to see if they can recognize the accused’s sample as a match. We learned this with eyewitness identifica­tion. If you’re actually testing recognitio­n, you test it blind and double-blind. You don’t give a person a one-on-one comparison because the power of suggestion is too strong. The best intentione­d person will see what they want to see. We tend to jump to conclusion­s, and focus on pieces of informatio­n that confirm what we want (them) to be.”

Cecilia Hageman, professor of forensic science at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, formerly an expert at the Centre of Forensic Sciences:

“The scientist has a responsibi­lity to let the court know there can be different interpreta­tions. If they’re not doing that they’re not doing their duty. Lawyers tend to look rather narrowly at the expert, and I don’t think they question near enough the quality system of the laboratory. If I’m in court giving DNA evidence, the court should know that the lab where I work tested this particular way of doing the DNA analysis and (has) done everything it has to do to make sure the results are reliable. That’s the key.”

Alan Young, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and York University, head of the Innocence Project:

“As long as we have a system where the parties can hire experts and results can be manipulate­d to serve a certain outcome, science is being bastardize­d and distorted by the competitiv­e ethos of criminal trials. The only solution is (to) not have the parties retain scientists, but to have the court appoint a group of scientists to reach a conclusion on a certain issue. Take out the adversaria­l approach. Take out the motivation to make money by being hired as a hired gun.”

James Lockyer, Toronto criminal defence lawyer, senior counsel for the Associatio­n in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted:

“Experts often play a critical role in the criminal justice system. It’s the responsibi­lity of the defence bar and others to be able to distinguis­h good science from bad science and good scientists from bad scientists to ensure that the science and the expert help rather than subvert the criminal justice process.”

Ian Scott, Toronto lawyer who has worked for the Crown and defence, former director of Ontario’s Special Investigat­ions Unit:

“I think the way that we can contain the potential of being misled in the forensic area is first of all to make sure that the Centre of Forensic Sciences (the provincial facility that does testing for all investigat­ive agencies in Ontario) continues to be well-funded. They have to view themselves as scientists and not partisans. They have to continue to see themselves as people that are involved in writing reports in scientific analysis and be equally as open (to) talking to the defence as the Crown.”

Greg McLane, Toronto Police staff inspector, head of Toronto’s homicide squad:

“Does it bother me that people have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit? Absolutely. I have to ensure that the evidence I acquire is done properly, is going to meet the test of the judicial system through the scrutiny that will be applied, and that it’s the best evidence that I can put forward. My job is to make sure the Crown is properly informed on the evidence. If I think there’s an ounce of doubt in my mind, I wouldn’t lay the charge. We have to hold the bar high.”

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