Archived News Releases

News Release - Manitoba

November 5, 2001

SOPHONOW INQUIRY REPORT RELEASED

Sophonow Inquiry Report Released


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Province Acting with 10-point Plan, Compensation for Sophonow, Stoppel family

Attorney General Gord Mackintosh today released the report of the inquiry into the arrest and prosecution of Thomas Sophonow and unveiled a 10-point action plan to implement the 11 recommendations that require a provincial response.

Sophonow was tried three times and spent nearly four years in prison, accused of a crime he did not commit. Authored by retired Supreme Court justice Peter Cory, the report finds that while Manitoba's justice system has improved a great deal in the years since Sophonow's case was last before the courts, further changes must be made.

"This report offers a great opportunity to learn from this travesty and strengthen our justice system. It makes concrete recommendations to help prevent miscarriages of justice and we have already taken steps on each of the 11 recommendations affecting the province," Mackintosh said.

"It is also my sincere hope that compensation and the progress that will be made as a result of the report will help in the healing process for the Sophonow and Stoppel families whose lives have been so deeply and tragically affected."

Manitoba's 10-point action plan addresses each of the 11 recommendations that are directed at the province either entirely or in part.

The action plan features:

  • Compensation for Thomas Sophonow: Cory recommends Thomas Sophonow receive compensation of $2.6 million. The province has entered into discussions with its insurer, the federal government and the City of Winnipeg to determine how to give effect to this recommendation. It is also important that the province speak to Thomas Sophonow as well, once he has had an opportunity to review the report fully.
  • Cory said compensation responsibility should be shared as follows: 50 per cent by Winnipeg, 40 per cent by Manitoba and 10 per cent by Canada. The province accepts this, which means its share is just over $1 million. As a show of good faith, the province is prepared to immediately make an interim payment of 10 per cent or $100,000 to Sophonow. This compensation is in addition to $75,000 provided to Sophonow before the inquiry plus $832,700 in support for legal fees and expenses.
  • Compensation for the Stoppel family: The report also suggests that some form of compensation be considered for the Stoppel family. In addition to the $232,000 already provided to the family for legal fees, the province is prepared to make a $75,000 payment, bringing total support for the Stoppel family to $307,000, plus coverage for future counselling costs.
  • The Sophonow inquiry action team: A team of representatives from Manitoba police forces and prosecutions is being formed to deal with recommendations involving both groups. Issues to be addressed include guidelines for police interviews, the use of eyewitness identification line-ups, exhibit storage, tunnel vision avoidance and alibi evidence. It is recognized that police forces have made substantial changes since 1982.
  • Sophonow inquiry workshop: The recommendations of the Sophonow inquiry will be the subject of a seminar at a Crown attorney conference early next month.
  • New jailhouse informants policy: Cory complimented Manitoba on the excellence of its guidelines limiting the use of in-custody informants. The interim guidelines were introduced in 2000 and further recommendations by Cory have now been incorporated in the final policy. The new policy means that jailhouse informants will only be used in rare and highly exceptional circumstances.
  • Tunnel vision avoidance strategy: A new director of prosecutors' legal education will oversee training that includes methods of recognizing and avoiding tunnel vision. Training will also be provided to Crown attorneys on other issues raised by Cory, including ensuring that issues that could unfairly prejudice an accused are not raised in court without adequate evidence.
  • New code of standards for Crown attorneys: Manitoba has just adopted the standards developed by the International Association of Prosecutors, considered the most comprehensive set of standards in the Commonwealth.
  • New Crown and defence liaison committee: Following a request by the attorney general, the Crown/Defence Liaison Committee has been re-established to set up regular joint meetings. Prosecutions will also work with the criminal law subsection of the Manitoba Bar Association to address joint issues and assist with educational seminars, including a Sophonow Inquiry recommendation seminar planned for next year. Cory recommends at least one meeting a year to "put forward problems" and "seek mutually satisfactory solutions".
  • Evidence testing protocol: Police and Crown policies and procedures are now in place to ensure that critical pieces of evidence that link a suspect to a crime are tested where appropriate. Prosecutions will continue to make use of emerging testing technologies as they become available.
  • Engaging partners in justice system: Of the report's 43 recommendations, 11 apply entirely or in part to the province while the remainder fall to other areas of the justice system. To prompt action by the province's partners, the attorney general presented the report in person to federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan. The report has also been shared with Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray and Winnipeg Police Service Chief Jack Ewatski.

In addition, the report is being forwarded to Manitoba's three courts: the Provincial Court, Court of Queen's Bench and Court of Appeal; the Law Society of Manitoba, Manitoba Bar Association and the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association; all police forces; and other provincial/territorial justice ministers and officials.

Copies of the Cory report will be available online at www.gov.mb.ca/justice/sophonow and by contacting Manitoba Statutory Publications at 204-945-3101 or toll free in Manitoba at 800-321-1203.

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INQUIRY BACKGROUND

Inquiry Facts

  • Hearings of the inquiry spanned from October 2000 to June 2001.
  • The actual number of sitting days totaled 63.
  • A total of 64 witnesses were called to testify at the inquiry.
  • Inquiry costs to date total $ $4,056,797. This includes a $75,000 ex gratia payment to Thomas Sophonow made before the inquiry started.
  • Inquiry costs include legal fees, disbursements, staffing, travel, technical and office equipment.

Key Changes in the Law, Prosecutions Policy and Practice since 1982

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms

This fundamental document came into force in April 1982.

Improved Federal Provincial and Territorial Co-operation

Heads of Prosecutions from across Canada now meet twice each year to discuss operational issues and share best practices. Since 2000, Manitoba has assumed a lead role in the national criminal law reform process. Manitoba's Deputy Minister chairs the national committee of Deputy Ministers of Justice, and the Assistant Deputy Attorney General was elected to chair the criminal law section of the Uniform Law Conference.

Disclosure Standards

Manitoba had already adopted the most comprehensive disclosure standards in Canada before the 1991 Stinchcombe decision of the Supreme Court set the standard for what the Crown was obliged to provide. Manitoba will continue to work with police to ensure that disclosure to defence counsel takes place in as timely a way as possible.

The Prosecutions Information and Scheduling System (PRISM)

PRISM is a database that allows Prosecutions to share information on criminal cases more easily with Justice staff throughout the province.

In-Custody Informer Policy

Manitoba's policies about the use of jailhouse informants, introduced in July 2000, are among the most thorough and restrictive in Canada and have been revised.

Use of Videotaped Evidence

It is now general practice for police to videotape interviews with suspects in serious crimes.

Prosecutions Departmental Re-organization

As part of a re-organization of the Prosecutions branch, one director will be responsible for the continuing legal education of Manitoba's Crown attorneys, including training in preventing tunnel vision.

Correctional Services Act

The act now specifies what action must be taken by correctional officers when they believe an inmate is in danger as well as what they must do if they have information that will be helpful in determining who might have committed a crime.

New Remand Centre

Opened in 1992, the centre replaced the remand facility at the Public Safety Building.

Victims' Bill of Rights

The legislation helps to balance the rights of victims with the rights of offenders, and is the most progressive act of its kind in Canada.

Chronological Background

December 23, 1981 Sixteen-year-old Barbara Stoppel was found critically injured at the Ideal Donut shop in St. Boniface where she worked part-time. She was strangled with twine.

December 29, 1981 Barbara Stoppel died from the injuries she received.

March 12, 1982 Thomas Sophonow was arrested in Vancouver, B.C., and brought to Winnipeg. He was charged with murder and held in custody.

October 18, 1982Thomas Sophonow's first trial on a charge of second-degree murder began before Mr. Justice Louis Deniset. Sophonow entered a plea of not guilty. Rocky Pollack represented Sophonow. George Dangerfield and Gregg Lawlor acted for the Crown.

November 6, 1982After deliberating for 28 hours, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. Sophonow remained in custody.

February 21, 1983The second trial on the same matter began before Mr. Justice John Scollin. Sophonow again pleaded not guilty. Greg Brodsky represented Sophonow. George Dangerfield and Gregg Lawlor acted for the Crown.

March 17, 1983The jury convicted Sophonow of second degree murder. Sophonow was sent to the federal corrections system.

March 13, 1984The Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned the conviction with a 2-1 decision. The court ruled that the judge did not properly instruct the jury hearing the second trial and a new trial was ordered. Sophonow remained in custody.

March 26, 1984The Crown appealed the Manitoba Court of Appeal's ruling to the Supreme Court.

December 10, 1984The Supreme Court upheld the Manitoba Court of Appeal's call for a third trial.

February 4, 1985The third trial began before Mr. Justice Benjamin Hewak. Sophonow again pleaded not guilty. Greg Brodsky represented Sophonow. Stu Whitley and Robert Gosman acted for the Crown.

March 16, 1985The jury spent 52 hours deliberating and delivered a verdict of guilty following the dismissal of one of the jurors.

December 12, 1985The Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned the conviction based on errors in law that occurred during the third trial. Sophonow was released from custody.

January 6, 1986The Crown appealed the Manitoba Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court.

April 22, 1986The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, ending proceedings against Sophonow.

June 8, 2000 Police announced the results of a re-investigation that cleared Thomas Sophonow. Manitoba's Attorney General, Gord Mackintosh called a full commission of inquiry into the matter.