His 50-year battle to clear his name cost Réjean Hinse his youth, his dignity and, at his darkest moments, his faith in Canadian justice.
Mr. Hinse was 24 years old when he was arrested for an armed robbery he did not commit. Today he is a 73-year-old pensioner, with a tuft of a grey beard, retreating hairline, and sad blue eyes that peer over bifocals.
But this week, what Mr. Hinse had lost to time he gained in recognition. A Quebec judge said he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and ordered the federal government to pay him $8.6-million in damages. Along with a $4.5-million settlement with Quebec, Mr. Hinse’s would be the largest-ever award for a wrongful conviction in Canada.
“Finally, I no longer have to fight,” Mr. Hinse said in an interview in the Montreal law offices of Borden Ladner Gervais, which took on his case pro bono. “The money is secondary. A struggle like this has no price.”
Along with the compensation award came scathing words for the federal government for its decades-long refusal to redress the judicial error that put Mr. Hinse in jail in the 1960s.
Quebec Superior Court Judge Hélène Poulin harshly blamed federal officials for stonewalling and “cruelly ignoring” Mr. Hinse’s pleas. She said no money could ever redress for what she called “judicial bungling.”
“How to set a price for the pain of someone who was unjustly, all his adult life, identified by his colleagues, neighbours and others as a violent robber, and who spent 50 years of his existence in the shadow of the criminal he wasn’t?” she wrote.
The incident that set Mr. Hinse on his lifelong path unfolded in 1961, when he was identified as having been part of a violent robbery at a couple’s home in the Upper Laurentians town of Mont-Laurier.
From the moment he was arrested, convicted of armed robbery, and sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mr. Hinse claimed his innocence. Even in jail, he got three of the five real authors of the robbery to sign sworn statements exonerating him of the crime.
He served five years behind bars and 10 years on parole. Once outside, his fight continued. He wrote to eight federal justice ministers, from Pierre Trudeau to Kim Campbell. He wrote to the governor-general. He wrote to the Queen of England.
His break came when the Quebec Police Commission in 1989 concluded that the Mont-Laurier police had botched their investigation. In 1991, the Quebec Court of Appeals overturned the guilty verdict and ordered a stay of proceedings.
But Mr. Hinse, by then working as a plumber and the father of two children, wanted the courts to recognize his innocence. He took his case to the Supreme Court, whose seven justices acquitted him in 1997 in a unanimous decision.
Finally, nearly a half century after the events that wronged him, he sued the Quebec and federal government for damages. After a six-week trial in Montreal late last year, in which many of the original witnesses to the crime were now senior citizens, Quebec settled out of court for $4.5-million.
Canada, however, refused, leading Judge Poulin to impose damages and excoriate federal inaction.
Guy Pratte, who along with Alex De Zordo was lead lawyer in the case, called the ruling “a historic day for Canadian justice,” since the judge held Ottawa liable for failing to remedy the impact of a judicial error.
“They’ve been in denial until now,” he said. “The court told the government that their powers have to be used properly, and they turned a deaf ear for 40 years.”
Mr. Hinse said despite his freedom, he felt he spent his life in a “psychological prison.” At a press conference at the law office, he held up a reproduction of the famous Edvar Munch painting The Scream to illustrate his turmoil at being wrongly accused.
The attorney-general of Canada is reviewing the ruling, a spokesman for Justice Canada said. Regardless of whether an appeal is filed, the judge ordered the compensation to take effect immediately.
Mr. Hinse, a widower who lives in Laval, north of Montreal, says he has modest plans. Later this month he plans to travel to Toronto to visit some museums. In June, he plans a group visit to northern Italy. He already takes seniors’ classes and belongs to a book club.
“All I know is that I can finally turn the page,” he said. “I felt I had no choice but to fight. Because an injustice is unacceptable
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
It's amazing what it takes to get respect.
Canada's justice system is flawed because there are NO checks and balances, if aviation or medicine operated like the judiciary, aircraft would explode on the runway and patients would be poisoned by their own doctor.
One essential cure is a real authority for the judiciary.
At present, the Ontario Superior Court is riddled with judges who suffer extreme personality disorders, flagrantly abuse their powers to intimidate, harass, destroy those they don't like and order billions of dollars against those they don't like for their friends in the legal cartel regardless of the merits.
There is an incredible bias, hatred towards men, who are deemed guilty of being criminals purely because they were born with testicles.
The solution is a real authority for the judiciary, and mental health screening for the judiciary.
Mandatory reporting of reasons for all decisions on a public data base, camera's in the court room and online down-loadable audio recordings of ALL proceedings and of ALL court documents.
Our courts operate in secret, they are supposedly open but in reality, the dead beat judges use all sorts of intimidation to clear the court room of anyone they don't like and even order that transcripts be altered or not supplied to protect themselves from any form of complaint or appeal.
Its enough to make you want to puke.