British Columbia

Ivan Henry has right to sue for wrongful conviction, Supreme Court rules

A man who spent 27 years in prison before eventually being acquitted on all 10 charges can sue federal and provincial authorities for damages, the country's top court rules.

Henry was acquitted in 2010 after spending 27 years in jail

Ivan Henry in 2010, after he was acquitted and released from prison. He told reporters that he wanted to get to know his grandchildren. (CBC)

A man who spent 27 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted for a series of sexual assaults will now be able to sue police and federal, provincial and municipal authorities for damages, the Supreme Court of Canada says.

Canada's highest court ruled Friday that Ivan Henry, 67, can move forward with lawsuits against authorities that include the City of Vancouver and members of the Vancouver Police Department but, the court ruled, he must prove that the Crown's withholding of evidence impinged on his ability to make a full defence.

Henry's lawyer, Joseph Arvey, said Friday that the condition should not be a problem.

"We have no concerns about Mr. Henry's ability to prove — based on this new test from the Supreme Court of Canada — that Crown intentionally hid evidence."

But others disagree, saying that the time elapsed since the original trial will make proof hard to establish.

Sean Dewart of the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted told CBC News he believes compensation should be automatic in this case.

"[We have] a prosecutor who's dead now, and a case that that happened almost a half century ago."

'Appropriate and just'

The ruling has not weakened the high threshold required for the ability to sue for damages in the case of a breach of Charter rights, Carmen Cheung of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association noted.

"The majority wanted to signal that...this ruling was really in the context of this particular case," she told CBC News. "Where somebody had suffered wrongful conviction, had served a very lengthy prison term as a result of wrongful non-disclosure by the prosecutors."

Henry will not need to prove malice on the part of prosecutors for damages to be awarded, just that the Crown's withholding of evidence affected his ability to fully defend himself.

If Henry's claims are true, the court said there would be no doubt that damages would be "appropriate and just".

Conviction quashed

In 1983, Ivan Henry was convicted of 10 sexual offences in Vancouver and sentenced to jail.

Henry always maintained his innocence. In 2010, the B.C. Court of Appeal found serious errors in the conduct of the trial and quashed all of those convictions, effectively acquitting him of the crimes.

This 1982 Vancouver police lineup photo, showing an officer holding Ivan Henry in a choke hold, was submitted to the B.C. Court of Appeal, before his conviction was overturned in 2010. (CBC)

Henry then launched a lawsuit for the wrongful convictions, claiming his Charter rights were violated when the Crown failed to disclose key information about his case, including conflicting statements from witnesses, that there was another suspect, and that similar assaults occurred after his arrest.

Henry's civil suit is set to go to trial in September.

With files from Farrah Merali

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