OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has cleared the way for a wrongfully convicted man to sue police and the Crown over his three decades of imprisonment.
The court has refused to hear an appeal that was seeking to block Romeo Phillion’s multimillion-dollar lawsuit for negligence and prosecutorial wrongdoing.
Phillion’s suit was originally barred by a lower court, but was reinstated by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Now in his mid-70s, Phillion was convicted of second-degree murder in 1972 in the death of Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy based on a confession he recanted almost immediately.
The federal government ultimately referred the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which quashed his conviction and ordered a new trial in 2009.
The Crown then withdrew the charge, arguing too much time had passed.
In quashing the conviction, the appeal court found that police had initially verified an alibi showing Phillion’s innocence but never told the defence about it, apparently because investigators subsequently found it to be untrue.
Phillion sued for $14 million, alleging negligence and wrongdoing by prosecutors and two Ottawa police officers.
In April last year, an Ontario Superior Court justice decided the suit would be an abuse of process because the appeal court had rejected suggestions of wrongdoing by police or the Crown and that too much time had passed to try Phillion’s claim now.
However, the appeal court then ruled Phillion should at least have a chance to put his case to a jury.
“It would further bring the administration of justice into disrepute to grant a stay in these circumstances and deprive the appellant of any opportunity to seek financial redress for his conviction when he did not have the opportunity to present a full defence at his trial,” the court said.
Philllion was the longest-serving inmate in Canada to have a murder conviction thrown out.