A judge has granted an acquittal to two First Nations men convicted of killing a restaurant worker in Winnipeg a half-century ago.
Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of King’s Bench told Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse they are innocent and deserve acquittals, resulting in an eruption of cheers and claps from the gallery.
“I’m now happy to enter them,” Joyal said of the acquittals. “Your stories are stories of courage and resilience.”
So many people turned up for the appearance of Anderson and Woodhouse in Winnipeg court that it had to be moved to a bigger room.
Following Joyal’s decision, people hugged and some began to cry.
The Crown had asked for an acquittal of Anderson and Woodhouse, saying systemic racism had affected the investigation and prosecution.
“Our justice system failed,” Crown attorney Michelle Jules told Joyal on Tuesday. “Failed to provide them a fair trial.”
Federal Justice Minister David Lametti ordered a new trial in June for the two men, citing unspecified new evidence.
Anderson and Woodhouse were sentenced to life in prison in the death of Ting Fong Chan, a restaurant worker who was stabbed to death in 1973 near a downtown construction site.
The men appealed to higher courts shortly after their convictions but were denied.
Anderson and Woodhouse professed their innocence Tuesday before the court.
Anderson, 68, said the conviction has had a huge effect on his family.
“This should have never happened,” he said.
Woodhouse, 67, said he killed no one, but spent 23 years in prison.
“It’s unbelievable to be accused of something you didn’t do,” he told the court. “I sent my family off because I didn’t want my family to see me while I was in prison.”
Anderson was released on parole in 1987 and Woodhouse in 1990.
Lametti said in a statement last month he was satisfied there was a reasonable basis to conclude a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.
Manitoba Justice Minister and Attorney General Kelvin Goertzen said Tuesday he believes a miscarriage of justice took place.
He offered his apologies to Anderson, Woodhouse and their families, but noted “nothing that can be said that will bring back the years of lost freedom or the time away from family and friends.”
He said the wrongful conviction has also caused hardship for Chan’s family, as they’ve sought justice over the past 50 years.
“This miscarriage of justice compounds the suffering of the Chan family as well, and as attorney general, I regret and recognize this hardship,” Goertzen said in a statement Tuesday.
Kim Beaudin, vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said he believes systemic racism was a driving force behind what happened.
“Both provincial and federal governments should be paying attention to these cases to see the results of racism, prejudice and overrepresentation of our people in prisons,” Beaudin said.
The men’s convictions were based largely on a signed confession given by Anderson to police. But lawyers have said Anderson did not know what he was signing and English was not his first language.
On a U.S.-based podcast last year, Anderson said he signed a piece of paper he thought was a receipt for his personal property that he had surrendered upon his arrest.