Living for nearly 40 years with the ebb and flow of hope to either clear his name or at least get some relief from the restrictions of parole from his conviction for a crime for which he couldn’t be convicted today, undoubtedly would have brought a lesser man to his knees long ago.
But John Moore, now 61, soldiers on, hope ever present, relief seemingly not in the cards, his case having been shunted aside by justice minister after justice minister.
Moore was convicted of second-degree murder in a Sault Ste. Marie court in 1978, even though evidence showed he was not present when Gordon Stevens and Terry Hogan killed 18-year-old cab driver Donald Lanthier in a robbery that netted them $15. He was convicted again in a retrial in 1982.
I have been writing about Moore since 1991, originally having come to believe he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and laterally to believe he is a victim of a system in which no one gives a damn.
Through all that time it seemed to me that I was a lone voice in the wilderness, few others in the media seeming to share my concern.
But that may have changed over the past couple of weeks.
It all started with a column by Postmedia writer Mark Bonokoski.
Bonokoski took issue with the fact that although Moore was native, there was not a single indigenous person on either of the two juries he faced, despite the fact the trials took place in Sault Ste. Marie, a city that is bordered by large First Nations reserves.
“Yet the sheriff’s office, as Moore’s documents show, made no attempt to secure a representative pool of jurists from any of those reserves, nor tap into the estimated thousands of First Nations individuals living in the city itself,” he said.
Claiming it is time to right a very serious wrong, Bonokoski, whose column appears in Postmedia and Sunmedia papers across the country, said John Moore deserves to have his name cleared.
Reporter Ben Leeson followed up with a major piece in the Sudbury Star, one that began on Page 1 and took up all of Page 5,
He related how Moore believes his race was a factor in how his case was tried.
“I always have that hope, that somebody in the House of Commons, the prime minister or the justice minister, especially the new one, because she’s native, to look at it and review it,” Moore said. “If they’re really serious, like Trudeau said when he was doing his campaign run, about big change for Canada, real change for Canada. Real change for justice, too, is part of real change for Canada.”
As basis for his claim of racial bias, Moore pointed out to Leeson that Rich Nichols, his brother-in-law and originally a suspect who was also with him the day of Lanthier’s murder, was not charged and instead became a witness for the Crown.
Nichols was white, while Moore, Stevens and Hogan were all Indigenous
MPs have taken up Moore’s cause before. Former Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, then with the NDP, and Nickel Belt counterpart Claude Gravelle presented a petition in the House on his behalf. Former Sudbury MP Diane Marleau also had attempted to help him.
Leeson reported that because of Moore’s criminal record and age, he has had trouble finding a stable, well-paying job. He lives on social assistance, which pays about $681 per month, but his rent runs about $650, leaving almost nothing for other household items. But by working odd jobs and through the generosity of friends, he’s able to get by, and to come up with the money he needed to copy the 339 letters – one for each MP in the House of Commons, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould – that he is mailing out. They include a letter from him and details of his case, along with letters of support from lawyers, his former parole officer, a university professor, among others, sent to justice ministers over the years.
Wilson-Raybould told Leeson that Moore’s case had received “an extensive review” several years ago, under the miscarriage of justice provisions in the Criminal Code, and he was advised at the time although there was a change in the law, that change did not serve to exonerate him.
“It was suggested that Mr. Moore apply for a conditional pardon, which is under the jurisdiction of the minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness,” Wilson-Raybould said in a statement.
“I can assure you that Mr. Moore’s case was dealt with in an expedient manner, including a review by the Minister’s Special Advisor on Wrongful Convictions.”
I think she misses the point. Moore’s case may have been dealt with in an expedient manner. What is being asked is that it be dealt with in an efficient manner, that some humanity rather than simple legality be brought into the equation.
Moore could not be convicted if tried now as the law under which he was convicted no longer exists.
In 1987 the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a murder conviction against Yvan Vaillancourt, a New Brunswicker who had participated in a robbery of a pool hall, in which his accomplice shot and killed a man, on the basis that he was not responsible or liable for the death since he could not have “objectively forseen it,” effectively striking down the section of the Criminal Code that said any part to one crime in which another committed “ought to have known” the probably consequences.
In straight legal terms, the overturning of the law didn’t help Moore because such changes are not retroactive.
However, I have long believed that Moore should get some relief from the parole restrictions he faces as a lifer, those parole restrictions at one time forbidding him to ride public transit in the Sault when he came to visit his mother.
I believe Wilson-Raybould, rather than sitting on her hands, should spearhead a delegation to the minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to bring Moore’s case to the forefront.
Moore is not eligible for a regular pardon because they are not offered to those convicted of such serious crimes as murder.
Moore previously has sought a free pardon under the provision of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy but his applications have been rebuffed.
Such an application is a long shot at best, only about one a year being granted since 2000 although there were more before that, but it is really the only route available.
However, I believe if a will can somehow be sparked in Wilson-Raybould, a way can be found to at least relieve Moore from the restrictions of parole so he can spend the rest of his life enjoying at least some semblance of freedom.
Moore was convicted on the basis of a law that was flawed. He should not be condemned to a life of penance by a system that is flawed.
Doug Millroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.