Questions From Applicants

Why does the Innocence Canada application ask about my mental health?

There is no obligation to provide this information – it is optional. But it can be very helpful to the review of your case.

Innocence Canada needs to get as much information as possible about you and consider how it relates to the particular circumstances of your case. Unfortunately, people who have mental health issues, diagnosed or not, are over-represented in the criminal justice system. This is an issue that Innocence Canada is aware of and tries to take into account when considering claims of innocence.

Why does the Innocence Canada application ask about my ethnicity?

Providing information to Innocence Canada about your ethnicity is optional. The application asks about your ethnicity for two reasons:

  1. Eyewitness identification is the primary cause of wrongful convictions. Although an eyewitness can be very confident about their identification of a perpetrator, the identification could be wrong. Confidence is not the same as accuracy. Further, numerous studies have shown that identification across ethnicities presents the eyewitness with additional difficulties in successfully identifying the correct perpetrator. By having more knowledge about your ethnicity and the ethnicity of the person who identified you as the perpetrator, Innocence Canada is in a better position to determine if eyewitness identification error could have played a role in your conviction.
  2. Innocence Canada strives to be known to all communities in Canada to ensure that all Canadians understand they have an organization to depend on if they have been convicted of a crime they have not committed. By providing Innocence Canada with your ethnicity, we are better able to assess which communities require improved outreach, awareness, and education services.

Why does the Innocence Canada application ask about my preferred language?

The application asks about your preferred language so that Innocence Canada can take into account language barriers that may need to be overcome while communicating with you. If it's possible, your case will be assigned to a case reviewer who speaks your language.

If your trial was not conducted in your preferred language, that is a potential issue for Innocence Canada to take into account when assessing the details of your testimony, if you chose to testify in your own defence.

Why does the Innocence Canada application ask about how I heard about Innocence Canada?

Innocence Canada regularly conducts outreach, awareness, and education services for the purpose of making the public aware of our organization and its mandate. By telling us where you heard about Innocence Canada, we are better able to assess which services are working effectively, and which services require improvement.

Can my family or friends submit an Innocence Canada application on my behalf?

Yes. Anyone can submit an application to Innocence Canada if they believe an innocent person has been convicted of a crime they did not commit. Note, however, that only the convicted person can sign the authorization and waiver. Innocence Canada cannot begin the case review process until the authorization and waiver is signed by the convicted person.

When does Innocence Canada get involved in cases? Can they help me if I was charged with a crime but not convicted?

Innocence Canada is an innocence organization. When a person continues to state they are innocent after being convicted of a crime, Innocence Canada may get involved, depending upon the circumstances of the case and the availability of new evidence that may be used to support the person's innocence. Due to Innocence Canada's financial and resource limitations, Innocence Canada focuses on homicide cases and does not take on cases where a person has been charged but not convicted.

How long will it take for Innocence Canada to review my case?

Firstly, Innocence Canada is not under an obligation to review your case. If Innocence Canada decides to review a case, the review process could take several years for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it will take time to obtain full disclosure from the Crown. In other cases, forensic experts may need to be consulted or private investigations may need to be retained to answer specific questions about the case that were not addressed at trial. Once a person is convicted of a criminal offence, it is exceptionally difficult to overturn the conviction. Some cases of innocence may be convincing, but Innocence Canada may not be able to find fresh evidence supporting innocence despite its best efforts. In such situations, Innocence Canada has no choice but to render the case inactive. For these reasons, the length of the time to review any case varies considerably but it is a lengthy process that requires patience from the applicant.

I received a letter from Innocence Canada indicating that fresh evidence could not be found in my case and that, as a result, Innocence Canada cannot continue to assist me at this time. What does this mean?

Once a person is convicted of a criminal offence, it is exceptionally difficult to overturn the conviction. Some cases of innocence may be convincing, but Innocence Canada may not be able to find fresh evidence supporting innocence despite its best efforts. In this type of situation, Innocence Canada has no choice but to render the case inactive because new and significant evidence is required to make it possible to advance the case to legal proceedings. Although Innocence Canada does its best to assist as many people as possible, only a small minority of our total applications advance to the stage of legal proceedings and, eventually, exoneration.

Why doesn't Innocence Canada take on international cases?

Innocence Canada once worked on international cases. Many of those cases were American cases. Although Innocence Canada has contributed to advancing cases of innocence on an international level in the past, Innocence Canada's practice was re-assessed and, in 2011, it was determined that Innocence Canada would require Directors' and Officers' Liability Insurance to continue its international efforts. Unfortunately, this insurance has proven impossible to obtain. As a result, Innocence Canada's efforts now focus solely on innocence claims arising from Canada. We are proud to be Canada's organization for innocence work.

Questions from the Public

What is Innocence Canada's procedure for conducting case reviews?

The goal of Innocence Canada’s case review process is to find new evidence in matters of significance to support innocence. Innocence Canada relies on its staff lawyers and experienced private bar lawyers to ensure that the best advice possible is obtained about how to proceed with a case review and with a plan for finding, if possible, new and significant evidence. Our private bar lawyers generously volunteer their time for this important work.

Read about our Case Review Process.

I would like to get involved with Innocence Canada. How do I start?

For information on how to get involved with Innocence Canada, please visit our Volunteer page

How many lawyers volunteer with Innocence Canada?

There are many lawyers who volunteer as case reviewers with Innocence Canada. These lawyers review and work on Innocence Canada cases while also managing their own private client files. In addition, there are several other lawyers who volunteer to act as Case Review Committee Members and Senior Counsel. 

There are additional lawyers who volunteer with Innocence Canada, but who do not assist in reviewing cases. These lawyers typically apply their expertise to civil matters related to specific Innocence Canada policies and procedures or provide consultation on specific civil and criminal issues. Some lawyers also contribute to Innocence Canada's educational mandate by writing blog entries, informative articles, or speaking at Innocence Canada educational events.

I am not a criminal lawyer. Can I still volunteer with Innocence Canada?

Yes. Although you likely will not be tasked with reviewing a case, your legal expertise will be used to assist Innocence Canada in furthering its mandate in other ways. Innocence Canada also welcomes additional non-legal skills and interests, for instance, fundraising experience or bilingualism are assets.

For more information on volunteer opportunities, please visit out Volunteer page

How is Innocence Canada funded? Do Innocence Canada lawyers get paid for their work?

One of Innocence Canada's primary funders is the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO). Innocence Canada is funded by grants and private donations only. We depend on the generosity of private donors.

Innocence Canada case review lawyers do not get paid for their case review work. Innocence Canada is a non-profit organization that does not have sufficient resources to compensate its legal professionals. If an opportunity presents itself where Legal Aid can be obtained for a case, Case Reviewers are encouraged to apply for Legal Aid to off-set the costs of the case.

Recently, specific grants have been obtained by Innocence Canada to allow for an honorarium to be paid to the lawyers who draft the s 696 Briefs in specific cases. These grants are time limited and may not be ongoing.

The Innocence Canada Board of Directors has also recently, as a pilot project, authorized modest payments to the lawyers who draft the s 696 Briefs in recognition of the time consuming and time pressured nature of the work required of them.

What is "fresh" evidence?

“Fresh evidence” is new and significant evidence that was not available at the time of the trial and which points to innocence or raises serious doubts about the correctness of the conviction.

This type of new and significant evidence is a mandatory requirement of submitting a s. 696.1 application, also known as an application for ministerial review. A ministerial review application is an extraordinary remedy that is beyond the usual methods of appeal. The purpose of the application is to request that the Minister of Justice review the case on the grounds that the case is a miscarriage of justice.

Why won’t the courts formally declare that a person is innocent, even upon acquittal?

It is important to understand that even if a person is innocent of a crime, the Court of Appeal cannot formally declare that person to be innocent. The reason for the Court's inability to make such a declaration is grounded in policy and jurisdiction: declaring a person innocent would effectively create two classes of people, those found to be factually innocent and those who simply benefited from the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. See the 2007 case of R. v. Mullins-Johnson, 228 C.C.C. (3d) 505 for further details.