Steven Truscott interview
January 22, 2007
Original Airdate: November 28, 2001
His story, many people claim, led to the end of capital punishment in Canada.
After serving 10 years in prison, Steven Truscott moved to a small community in Ontario where he remained anonymous and silent about his controversial arrest, trial and conviction.
A few years ago he came out of seclusion for a fifth estate documentary.
Tonight, he talks to Peter Mansbridge about a new project: a call for an inquiry into what happened to him.
Steven Truscott, age 14
PETER MANSBRIDGE: In 1959, the school boy lost his freedom, most of his formative years and almost his life.
His name is Steven Truscott. At the age of 14, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to die. His story is one of the most famous in Canadian judicial history. And after more than four decades, Steven Truscott wants to clear his name. Tomorrow he'll officially ask Ottawa to do just that.
Tonight Steven Truscott came here to explain why. First, a bit of background. It was June 1959. A hot and muggy late spring evening near the Clinton Air Force Base in southern Ontario. But it was an evening that would turn into tragedy and controversy.
Lynn Harper, age 12
This was when 14 year old Steven Truscott took his classmate, 12 year old Lynn Harper for a short bicycle ride.
Two days later, Lynn's body was found. She'd been raped and strangled in a nearby wood. Within two days, Truscott was charged with Harper's murder. After a two week trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. The death penalty was commuted and Truscott went to prison where he would spend the next 10 years.
Found two days later
The case was immediately controversial, first because someone so young had been sentenced to die, but also because of doubts about Truscott's guilt. In the mid 1960's, a book that questioned the hasty police investigation and the trial procedures led to an uproar in parliament, demonstrations on the street and a Supreme Court review. But the Supreme Court upheld the verdict and Truscott remained in prison until he was paroled in 1969.
Book sparked second look
In the decades after that, Steven Truscott lived under an assumed name in Guelph, Ontario. He married and raised three children. Although his case and the Truscott name were known across Canada, he remained anonymous until March of 2000 when the CBC's "The Fifth Estate" broadcast a documentary about the case. On that program, Canadians saw and heard from Steven Truscott for the first time in 25 years. Linden MacIntyre was the reporter on the story.
Served 10 years
LINDEN MACINTYRE: Important evidence was overlooked. Important evidence pointing in other directions. Very flimsy circumstantial evidence that pointed towards him was actually torqued up to have a greater impact on an unsophisticated jury. And one very significant piece of evidence was actually misconstrued, manipulated to make it look like he did it. Evidence from a pathologist who subsequently actually changed his tune. He reevaluated his assessment and changed his mind. And nobody, nobody took, nobody bothered to take that seriously.
MANSBRIDGE: Truscott's case has been taken up by the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, a group that includes lawyers who helped establish the innocence of Guy-Paul Morin, David Milgaard, and Donald Marshall. A new book also argues the case that Truscott is not guilty.
MACINTYRE: Canadians do feel uncomfortable, even more than 40 years after this, this capture of our legal history, they're still uncomfortable with it and they want resolution. Not closure. They want some resolution. It's out there, this deep routed Canadian sense of right and wrong has been offended by the Truscott case. And this is the last opportunity, I think, we will have certainly in Truscott's lifetime to bring some redress.
MANSBRIDGE: Tomorrow, armed with new evidence, Truscott and his lawyers will file a formal appeal with the federal Justice Minister for a review of the case.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Joining us in studio, Steven Truscott. What do you think of when you see those old pictures going by from 40 years ago?
STEVEN TRUSCOTT: I think it brings everything back. But it was the only way to get out story out, to let everybody hear it.
The National, Nov. 28, 2001
MANSBRIDGE: Is it hard to watch those pictures again?
TRUSCOTT: No. It hasn't really been hard for me because at the time I was, I was 14 and you sort of move on with your life or you don't survive. And it's basically what I've done.
MANSBRIDGE: Well you did move on with your life after, after you served your sentence. But now in these last couple of years, you've, after being a very private person for so long, you've gone public. Why have you done that?
TRUSCOTT: I think the main reason is that I want to clear my name. I want my kids to have my name, my dad's name. And it was important to me to get everything out so that everybody could see. We had nothing to hide. And unfortunately, it took that long to get all the information that is available now.
MANSBRIDGE: Is it all about clearing your name? I mean you've seen others who have been wrongfully convicted who's not only had their names cleared, but they've been compensated. Some to a very large amount of money. Are you after compensation as well?
TRUSCOTT: No. The only thing that I am after is to clear my name. We've never discussed any compensation with AIDWYC or anybody else.
The National, Nov. 28, 2001
MANSBRIDGE: That's the legal defence team.
TRUSCOTT: That's the legal defence team.
MANSBRIDGE: As you well know, for the Minister of Justice to grant a review of your case, there needs to be compelling new evidence. We've seen some new evidence brought out by the Fifth Estate program. Julian Shearer's new book puts new evidence on the table. For you, what is the most compelling piece of new evidence that shows you are innocent?
TRUSCOTT: I think everything combined. There was things that started the trial. There was evidence that was never given to my lawyers. There was evidence that wasn't given at the appeal or the Supreme Court. And there's an awful lot of evidence that was more or less put under the table, I guess with the idea that we would never see it. And AIDWYC finally has probably about 90 or 95 percent of the information now. And I think it is very powerful.
MANSBRIDGE: So no one piece of evidence but all of it combined.
TRUSCOTT: I think all of it combined, yes.
MANSBRIDGE: You know, when you decided to go public with this, after all those years of remaining so private, is it difficult for you? What's it been like?
TRUSCOTT: It's very difficult because I've never been a public person. It was something that the whole family discussed as a family. And my kids had branched out and had their own families and we thought as a group, it's time to get every bit of evidence that we could. I had heard about AIDWYC helping on a couple of the other cases with DNA. So I approached them and asked them if they would look into it to see if there was DNA.
MANSBRIDGE: When you had that family discussion, was there any doubt by your other family members that...
MANSBRIDGE: ...you should go public again, make another attempt?
TRUSCOTT: We didn't know exactly what it would be going public. Most of the people in the town that we lived in know, knew who we were. And...
The National, Nov. 28, 2001
MANSBRIDGE: They already knew?
TRUSCOTT: Most of them did.
MANSBRIDGE: Even though you were using a different name at the time?
TRUSCOTT: Yes. Yes. So it didn't come to a shock to any of them. It was mainly outside of the town that we were in. And that's taken quite a, quite a bit of used, getting used to.
MANSBRIDGE: How did it feel when you started using Steven Truscott again as your name?
TRUSCOTT: Legally my name has always been Steven Truscott. But we had to use the assumed name when I got out of prison. And it was a name that I was familiar with. So that part wasn't that difficult. But it's not the name I was born with. And it's not the name that my kids were born with. And I figure we have that right to bear my father's name.
MANSBRIDGE: Your son started using Truscott as well.
MANSBRIDGE: When you started reusing it.
MANSBRIDGE: How was that?
TRUSCOTT: He found it difficult at first. He had spent about 25 years under the assumed name. So he found it a little bit difficult at first, but he's used to it now.
MANSBRIDGE: We watched Linden MacIntyre, the reporter who first brought your story back into the national limelight again just a little over a year ago, saying that this was your last chance in your lifetime, this review of the case. Is that the way you feel too?
TRUSCOTT: I would say definitely. I think every other avenues has been exhausted. And I think is the first time in 42 years that all this information is available to the Justice Department or the Justice Minister. It's always been in the Justice Department that nobody has ever looked at it before. So, it's finally compiled together. I think AIDWYC has done a fantastic job on it. And I'm just hoping that the Justice Minister will do an honest job on it.
MANSBRIDGE: Are you optimistic?
TRUSCOTT: Yes. Yes. I think the Justice Department has changed a lot since I was in their system. And I think people are more open. So I think they'll do the right thing.
MANSBRIDGE: Whatever they do, how will your life change?
TRUSCOTT: I don't think my life will really change anymore. I would get my name back. Other than that, I mean that's one thing that I have left is to get my name back and for them to admit there was a wrongful conviction.
MANSBRIDGE: Steven Truscott, I think the whole country will be fascinated and watching as this unfolds. We thank you for your time tonight.
TRUSCOTT: Thank you very much, Peter.
- Video of Ontario Court of Appeal
- Steven Truscott and lawyers respond to Court of Appeal acquittal, Aug. 28 2007. (Runs 39:13)
- CBC Archives: This Hour Has Seven Days interview with Doris Truscott, Steven's mother, on March 20 1966
- The backgrounder (Runs: 3:26)
- The interview (Runs: 8:33)
- Steven Truscott news conference: Nov 29, 2001 (Runs: 1:41)
- CBC to televise Truscott appeal live (Jan. 18, 2007)
- Truscott case a 'mishap,' says renowned pathologist (July 7, 2006)
- Truscott witness says her police statement was wrong (July 6, 2006)
- Time of death unclear in Truscott case, doctor says (June 19, 2006)
- Tests fail to find DNA evidence in notorious 1959 murder (April 10, 2006)
- Girl's body exhumed in Truscott case (April 6, 2006)
- Report fails to exonerate Truscott (Nov. 29, 2005)
- Steven Truscott decision under fire (Oct. 29, 2004)
- Truscott decision 'step forward': Lawyer (Oct. 28, 2004)
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