My latest article for Linchpin.
Campaign seeks to clear John Moore's name
by Scott Neigh
A new group based in Sudbury, Ont. is working to build national support for John Moore, an Ojibway man wrongfully convicted of second degree murder in 1978. Moore and the committee are currently asking groups and individuals from across Canada to sign on to a one-paragraph statement that outlines the injustice and asserts that "in recognition of the long history of indigenous people being targeted unfairly by the Canadian justice system, we, the individuals and groups listed below, call upon the Government of Canada to conduct a review of Moore's conviction."
Moore, a member of the Serpent River First Nation who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. was accused of involvement in the murder of cab driver Donald Lanthier in August 1978. Moore said, "I unequivocally did not commit the crime."
The Crown's case was not based on asserting that Moore actually participated in the crime, and it conceded that he was not present when it happened. Rather, Moore spent time earlier that day with the men who did commit it. He was found guilty, both at his initial trial and in the retrial ordered after an early appeal, on the basis of the law at the time, which maintained that Moore should have known that a murder was going to be committed.
Moore's lawyer, Denis Michel, said, "This archaic law that permitted the conviction of Mr. Moore was rectified in 1987 and despite that fact, nothing has been done to rectify the harm that has been caused to Mr. Moore."
Will Morin is a long-time friend and supporter of Moore , as well as an artist and a professor of Native Studies at Laurentian University. He, like Moore, puts the conviction in a context larger than one unjust law.
"Racism is systemic in our country, by the nature of colonization," he said. A central feature of this history was "the demonizing of Aboriginals to justify colonization," a process that continues to this day. He pointed to social institutions that reflect and reinforce this racism, such as the ongoing refusal to put substantive, truthful Aboriginal content in mainstream education and mass media, and the disproportionate targeting of Aboriginal people by police and the courts.
In the course of working with Moore, Morin has examined many of the relevant legal documents, including trial transcripts, in detail. He identified the most visible manifestation of systemic racism as the lack of any Aboriginal people on the juries of either of Moore's trials, despite the many reserves in the Sault Ste. Marie area -- "He was not tried by a jury of his peers." Morin also saw evidence of racism at work in "the treatment of [ Moore ] by the Crown."
Morin said that several other people were connected to the crime in a similar manner to Moore, and in some instances in actually substantive ways. One of these people was charged and acquitted. Several others were never charged. All were white.
Moore served ten years in prison, most of it in the maximum security Millhaven Institution in Bath , Ont. In his time inside, Moore said, "I lost a lot more than people can ever imagine." His father, one of his three sons, the grandmother that raised him, and several other members of his family died during this time. "Losing everything I had close to me was the hardest part. And not seeing my sons grow up."
He faces supervision by parole authorities for the rest of the life. The stigma of a murder conviction also follows him. "Jobs are pretty hard to get," he said, and having that conviction on his record is "one of the biggest barriers."
Moore has been working since he was released to clear his name. Ultimately, he is seeking a full exoneration but his immediate goal is to get a pardon, a more limited remedy that can come from an official Justice Department review of his case. He has requested this on many occasions from many Justice Ministers, both Liberal and Conservative, but the responses have been "nothing promising."
Over the years in Sudbury, Morin has seen "a continual slow increase in support by the community" for Moore. The goal for Moore and the support committee, called Justice and Freedom for John Moore, is to extend this solid base of local support and build momentum that will force the Justice Department to change its position.
Moore calls for people to read the statement and supporting information on the committee's website and then for organizations and individuals to sign on in support. "The most important thing that needs to happen," Moore said, "is pressure to review my case, from all of my supporters."
Prominent individual signers so far include Glenn Thibeault, the NDP MP for Sudbury; Charles Roach, a founding member of the Black Action Defense Committee and a well-known Toronto lawyer; and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a long-time indigenous and feminist activist based in San Francisco. Organizational endorsements have come from Common Cause, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Sudbury and District Labour Council and the Aboriginal Peoples Alliance of Northern Ontario, among others.
The campaign has led to other opportunities for Moore to get his message out. This fall, he has twice gone to Ottawa to speak and made a trip to Montreal in late November. As well, Carleton University journalism student Samantha Pollock is shooting a documentary about his case, which she will soon be pitching to potential buyers such as the CBC and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
Scott Neigh is a writer, activist, and parent who lives in Sudbury, Ontario. For more of his writing, visit http://scottneigh.blogspot.com