4 mars 2014

Request to Peter MacKay and Steven Blaney asking them to pardon Wilbert Coffin

Request to Peter MacKay and Steven Blaney asking them to pardon Wilbert Coffin 

Saint-Sauveur, March 4, 2014


Request addressed to the honourable Peter Gordon MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness asking them to pardon Wilbert Coffin

The conclusions[i] I arrived at in a study that I have made of Wilbert Coffin’s trial before the Court of Queen’s Bench, in Percé, in 1954, along with those of the Brossard[ii] Commission of Inquiry on the Coffin Affair, in 1964, do not, in my view, permit to clear Coffin’s name. However, to accomplish, even partially, the promises that many members of parliament have made to the Coffin family, a pardon granted to Wilbert Coffin would close this very sad affair.

The following motion was adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, requesting the Criminal Conviction Review Group to examine the Coffin affair. This motion was adopted by Parliament on February 6, 2007. 

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and a motion adopted by the Committee on Wednesday, November 1, 2006, your Committee recommends:

Whereas 2006 marks the 50th  anniversary of the execution of Wilbert Coffin.

Whereas several observers, including former journalist and Senator Jacques Hébert, have shed light on irregularities surrounding the accusation, conviction and execution of Wilbert Coffin.

Whereas Wilbert Coffin’s sister, Mary Coffin, and his son Jimmy Coffin are seeking an official judicial review under Part XXI.I of the Criminal Code.

That the government act with diligence and speed in the matter of the late Wilbert Coffin.

To date, the Criminal Conviction Review Group, then under the responsibility of Mr. Kerry Scullion, lawyer, has not filed its report. This file has more than twenty thousand pages. It does not appear realistic to rely on a committee to make a thorough study of this affair. The knowledge of French and English is necessary. I tried to be of some help in translating the six hundred ninety three page Brossard report which I posted on my blog.

 Ms Elizabeth Widner, the lawyer who then represented The Association of the Wrongly Convicted and its subsidiary in Montreal has not pursued her action. Le Comité des erreurs judiciaires (The Committee of Miscarriage of Justice), which was its subsidiary at the Université de Montréal, ceased its research. (This Committee has become  « Le regroupement Projet Innocence Montréal – Université de Montréal).

Projet Innocence Québec, Université du Québec à Montréal, then under the responsibility of Ms Lida Sara Nouraie, lawyer, took charge of this file, but has not yet filed a report.

Several members of parliament, conservative, liberal, NDP and bloquiste, have pledged their support to the Coffin family. I refer you to my blog where I have compiled what they have said about the Coffin case. Those members are Steven Blaney[iii], Joe Comartin, Marlene Jennings, Raynald Blais, Rénald Ménard, Michael Ignatieff[iv] Dominique Leblanc[v] and JustinTrudeau[vi].

I believe that the Government of Canada may legitimately grant pardon to Wilbert Coffin on the basis of the following facts: Before the killing of the American bear hunters, according to the testimony of McCallum, in the Court of Queen's Bench, Coffin had bought half a dozen bottles of beer. He drank one in the presence of McCallum[vii]. He asked that the others be placed in a bag so that he could bring them with him.  Although Justice Lacroix, in his address, said that he was not convinced that the evidence revealed that the accused had abused of alcohol in the last hours he was seen with the young Lindsay, he suggested to the jury the possibility of a verdict of manslaughter[viii]. Nothing tells us, however, in which state Coffin was when he bought the beer bottles and how much he drank before committing his crime. In this regard, Marion Petrie, the mistress of Wilbert Coffin said in her statement on August 6, 1953: " Wilbert was almost always drunk when he was at home ..." It would be reasonable to believe that if the jury had been informed that the accused so indulged in alcohol,  they would have returned a verdict of manslaughter.

Today, in such circumstances, the defense would likely invoke the following reasons: Coffin participated in the Italian Campaign. His behavior may be due to a post-traumatic stress caused by the war. Upon his return, there is evidence that he drank a lot. In a report from sergeant Doyon of the Sûreté du Québec, we read:  “I recently learned from Donald Coffin, brother of Wilbert, and this, quite recently, that Wilbert had been drinking for about a month and a half before the arrival of the three American hunters. And while he was in that state, Donald added that Wilbert was a very wild guy, to the extent that his brother had to keep watch over him; because, as Donald said, Wilbert then could do anything, and that, since his return from overseas, where he had been at the front for five years.” Before the Brossard Commission, Donald Coffin believed rather that his brother drank all through one week.

It is known that alcoholism often leads to denial. Until his hanging, Coffin proclaimed his innocence. Personally, during my research to write my docu-novel, it often crossed my mind that Coffin was a "victim" of the war.

By pardoning Coffin, the Canadian Parliament will accomplish the promises made to the Coffin family by many of its members and put an end to what is still known as the greatest miscarriage of justice in Canada.


Clément Fortin, retired lawyer,

40, de la Marquise Street,

Saint- Sauveur ( Quebec ) J0R 1R4

450 227 5044

[i] Clément Fortin L’affaire Coffin: une supercherie? Wilson & Lafleur, Montréal, 1907. Since my book was not translated, English-speaking Canada is still under the influence of the late Senator Jacques Hébert’s book I Accuse the Assassins of Coffin published in 1964. Sadly, my publisher did not qualify for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts for the translation of my book.
[ii] Rapport de la Commission d’enquête Brossard sur l’affaire Coffin, Province de Québec, 27 novembre 1964 (Report of the Brossard Commission of Enquiry on the Coffin Affair) Unfortunately, this report is not available  in English. I refer you to my blog for my translation.
Read on my blog the transcripts of the remarks those members of Parliament made before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human rights, that looked into the fate of the Coffin Affair, on the 50th anniversary of his execution.
[vii] Clément Fortin, ibid.,  p. 208
[viii] Clément Fortin, ibid., p. 362 ... and I add, with the strong reserves that I have made, that if you are under the impression, after having heard the testimony of McCallun, not that Coffin bought beer, but that he drank one bottle, provided of course that you believe beyond a reasonable doubt that it was he who committed the crime, and that he drank beer purchased from McCallum before doing so, in this case only, based on proof, you might consider a verdict of manslaughter.

2 commentaires:

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This would seem to be the only solution to this miscarriage of justice. Whether guilty or innocent, this man did not receive a fair trial and lost his life because of the flaws in our system at the time.