In a recent CBC-TV 'Fifth Estate' program "The Wrong Man" (about retired Manitoba Crown Prosecutor, George Dangerfield) investigative-reporter, Bob McKeown stated "It's the skeleton in the closet of our legal-system... cases where innocent people are convicted."
Former Winnipeg MLA, Bob Wilson, still maintains that he is completely innocent thirty years after his 1980 conviction and imprisonment on two 'marijuana conspiracy' charges claiming that he was framed and railroaded in "a classic case of guilt by association". Wilson's arrest and trial are interesting for historic reasons: front-page and daily newspaper-headlines about a sitting Provincial Legislator allegedly involved in a Florida-based, Colombian-pot smuggling and trafficking operation, as well as a connection to the Winnipeg Jets NHL franchise.
Also notable is that the Crown Prosecutor, Bruce MacFarlane (co-author of a legal textbook "Drug Offenses in Canada" 1979) has presented an analytic paper "Convicting the Innocent: A Triple Failure of the Justice System" at Commonwealth Conferences in Australia (2003) and Ireland (2005).
One doesn't have to stretch the imagination to interpret his essay as a disguised confession, an admission of uncertainty if not guilt, that he may have played a part in ruining the lives of innocent people.
In the opening-section, MacFarlane admits: "Anglo-based criminal justice systems... are now having to grapple with the stark reality, and not merely a belief, that wrongful convictions have occurred on a significant scale... As the 1980s approached... serious questions were being raised about whether some not-so-subtle systemic practices were contributing significantly to the problem... A series of wrongful convictions have emerged in Canada during the past 15 years. Individually, and as a group, these cases show that miscarriages of justice are... rooted in the attitudes, practices and culture of the various participants who exercise authority in the criminal justice system."
As Crown counsel in the prosecution of Wilson, MacFarlane incorporated questionable "systemic practices" that he identifies and criticizes in "Convicting the Innocent..."; especially "reliance on unreliable 'jailhouse informants' and the existence of 'tunnel vision' on the part of both the investigators and the prosecution".
Court Reporter Steve Pona wrote that at Wilson's bail hearing, his lawyer Jay Prober "challenged the Crown's charges as 'only allegations and nothing more than that'."
"Outlining the Crown's case" at the start of the trial "MacFarlane said MacDonald told William Wright, an un-indicted co-conspirator who is expected to testify for the Crown, that he and 'a friend' he later identified as Michael Gobuty - president of the Winnipeg Jets - were each prepared to put up half the front money for a marijuana deal... But MacFarlane said Wright later discovered Gobuty wasn't involved in the deal, it was Wilson who was involved."
"Under questioning... Wright said he had been charged with importing marijuana, but the charges were dropped last January following talks between his lawyer and the Crown."
Under the headline "Wilson's lawyer attacks key witness's credibility" Pona reported "Prober noted Wright himself had been charged in the drug investigation, along with his son and his common-law wife. The charges were stayed after Wright agreed to testify. Prober suggested he made a deal with the Crown... ' you're speculating because you made a deal, you bought your freedom by coming here to testify'... Wright has testified he purchased marijuana from MacDonald (who he knew) as a liar, braggart and cheat."
The next day "Prober suggested Wright, 38, found his only way out was 'to come to court and give evidence and point the finger at somebody.' Wright agreed he made a deal... after bringing marijuana over the Canada-U.S. border in the summer of 1979... He maintained he only used cocaine on three or four occasions and added he couldn't afford it. Wright was convicted of possession of marijuana in October, 1978."
And under "Wright linked to guns, dope": "Two rifles, boxes of ammunition... were discovered in a truck carrying more than 100 pounds of marijuana in the summer of 1979... driven by William Gordon Wright... Prober called it 'a veritable arsenal'. Drug charges against Wright were stayed by the Crown after he agreed to testify. Wilson, 45, MLA for Wolsely, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to import and traffic in marijuana."
Following a three-week adjournment of the trial, Ron Campbell reported "Star prosecution witness William Gordon Wright testified... he had not talked to Wilson about the July, 1979, drug shipment... he said MacDonald got hold of Wilson and said 'Wright's here for some more dope; what should we do?'"
Under "Wilson trial witness insists testimony legitimate": "Star prosecution witness William Gordon Wright again denied in court yesterday his testimony against Wolseley MLA Bob Wilson was fabricated to 'live up to the deal' he has made with the crown... In earlier testimony yesterday, Prober attempted to trip Wright up on who had answered the door when Wright went to Wilson's 2 Middlegate address the evening of May 10, 1979. Wright had said Wilson answered the door, but taped conversations obtained by RCMP wiretaps seemed to show it had been another co-accused, Ian Jackson MacDonald... RCMP Const. Harry Barrington testified... that during three separate interviews with Wright last year, he had not recorded what Wright said... because 'we didn't want to scare him. We wanted to hear what he had to say.'"
Under "Wilson defense puts six taped calls into evidence": "The Crown alleges MacDonald used his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., yacht dealership as a front for drug deals. He has yet to be tried. In two other conversations, MacDonald tries to convince Winnipeg Jets owner Michael Gobuty to buy a boat... Key Crown witness Bill Wright has testified... he went to Wilson's home carrying about $65,000 to pay (MacDonald) for a previous illegal drug shipment."
In his closing argument "Prober strongly attacked key Crown witness William Gordon Wright... 'He didn't offer to testify. He was bribed'... Wright was facing up to 20 years in prison for the drug charges against him, Prober asserted... Wright was convicted Oct .2, 1978, for growing marijuana and was on probation for that when he was first caught importing it in May, 1979. On bail for that charge, he was again charged with importing the drug... Prober pointed to several inconsistencies between Wright's testimony for the Crown and his testimony during cross-examination."
While Wilson was in prison, The Winnipeg Free Press published a 'Saturday Plus' feature interview with Wright, by Mike Ward:
"The chief prosecution witness in the drug conspiracy trial of Bob Wilson says he is 'now paying a terrible price' for his actions.
William Wright, who agreed to testify against Wilson and others in exchange for his freedom, and that of his common-law wife Elsie and son Bobbie, now 19, says he sometimes wishes he too was convicted and sent to jail.
'But at that point they had an awful lever over my head...Elsie going to jail, my son going to jail, my going to jail, losing everything I own.
I believe Wilson is guilty or I wouldn't have testified against him... after the trial was over, I was feeling really (bad) about it... it brings tears to my eyes looking back on it. It was just a horrible experience.
Had it happened the way it was supposed to have happened, when the deal was made with the RCMP, when they had everybody, then I would now be sleeping better at night.'
Wright, a slender six-footer who is now in his early 40s... said he believes Wilson turned out to be a 'fall guy' in the drug conspiracy case because so many others charged with him remain free.
Wright said he's no longer sure the deal he made with the RCMP and federal prosecutors was a good one.
'When the whole thing started it was supposed to have been against all of them.. At that point it probably would have been a good exchange, but the way it worked out I don't know if it was or not.
I think he is a fall guy in the sense that he ended up taking a harder fall than anybody else would have for the same thing. If Wilson wasn't who he was, they certainly wouldn't have made the deal with me.'
Wright's deal with the prosecutors was the second he made in three years, a fact not given to Wilson's jury...
That wasn't Wright's first brush with the law. In 1968, he was charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle and RCMP were investigating his role in the theft of a car engine when the drug charges involving Wilson arose.
'I tell you what the law can do. If they want you, they got you, once they put their minds to it. The last thing I want to do is to have any more encounters with the law.'"
More than two decades later, MacFarlane quoted Peter Cory, retired justice of the Supreme Court of Canada:
"Jailhouse informants comprise the most deceitful and deceptive group of witnesses known to frequent the courts. The more notorious the case, the greater the number of prospective informants.
They rush to testify like vultures to rotting flesh or sharks to blood. They are smooth and convincing liars. Whether they seek favors from the authorities, attention or notoriety they are in every
instance completely unreliable. It will be seen how frequently they have been a major factor in the conviction of innocent people and how much they tend to corrupt the administration of justice.
Usually, their presence as witnesses signals the end of any hope of providing a fair trial. They must be recognized as a very great danger to our trial system. Steps must be taken to rid the
courts of this cancerous corruption of the administration of justice. Perhaps, the greatest danger flows from their ability to testify falsely in a remarkably convincing manner. . . . Jailhouse informants are a festering sore. They constitute a malignant infection that renders a fair trial impossible. They should, as far as it is possible, be excised and removed from our trial process."