Mulroney discusses wrongful convictions

    Brian Mulroney spoke to the STU community about the Canadian justice system (Keith Minchin/Submitted)

    Brian Mulroney’s passion for law and justice was clear when he spoke about the highlights of his time as prime minister.

    Mulroney delivered a speech entitled “Leadership in Canada and Around the World” on Thursday to an audience that overflowed the allowed seating and stood along the back wall in Holy Cross House conference room at St. Thomas University. Mulroney spoke about his faith in the justice system, despite the history of wrongful convictions.

    “There are wrongful convictions happening every day,” Mulroney said.

    Before entering politics, Mulroney studied law and received his degree at Universite Laval in 1961. He practised law for 15 years. His respect for the justice system was prevalent in his speech.

    “We must respect traditions that made us the kind of nation we are. Not perfect by a long shot, but the nation we are.”

    In 1983, Mulroney was elected the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and, a year later, became the 18th Prime Minister of Canada until his resignation in 1993.

    Mulroney references a prime minister’s responsibility to appoint the Supreme Court of Canada which he doesn’t take lightly.

    “Nothing is more important than the appointment of the Supreme Court,” said Mulroney. “I got to appoint nine out of nine members.”

    Regardless of Mulroney’s faith in the justice system, he stayed true to his instincts in the case of David Milgaard. Winnipeg’s Milgaard was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of 20-year-old Gail Miller in 1970.

    Milgaard’s mother, Joyce, exercised avid protests to overturn the conviction. She believed her son was innocent.
    “We are all somebody’s child, all of us, which is why I was so moved when I saw her.”

    Mulroney made sure the case was referred back to the Supreme Court of Canada where the decision was nine to zero that he was not guilty. Milgaard was then released after 23 years in prison and compensated $10 million. The advancements of DNA technologies were able to identify the real killer.

    Mulroney’s passion for law exceeded the Canadian border as he also made it his goal to end the apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela.

    Mandela was freed in 1990, under Mulroney’s leadership, and insisted on making his first speech in front of a free parliament in Canada.

    Mulroney said he received a call from Mandela who said “When I was in jail, I listened to the BBC and I heard that a young Conservative came to power in Canada.” Mandela heard of Mulroney’s anti-apartheid views and mission to free him from prison.

    Mandela delivered his first speech in Ottawa.

    It could be assumed it was his law background that led him towards these decisions, but Mulroney said he had no guidance when he was presented with these situations.

    “My greatest pleasures were ones like David Milgaard and Nelson Mandela,” said Mulroney. “Instincts are fashioned by your life experiences.”