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Jan 23, 2019

Bail Granted: Wade Skiffington

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Vancouver, BC: In a dramatic breakthrough in one of Canada’s most notorious wrongful conviction cases, Wade Skiffington has been released on bail while the Minister of Justice conducts a full investigation into whether his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.  

On January 23, 2019, the Honourable Justice Michael Tammen, of the British Columbia Supreme Court, in Vancouver, BC, ordered that Mr. Skiffington be released to live with his family in Newfoundland and Labrador while the Minister’s investigation is underway.  

Following Justice Tammen’s decision, Phil Campbell, of Innocence Canada, said “This is a great day. As dreadful as wrongful convictions are, it is deeply gratifying when they start to be recognized and corrected. The Minister of Justice’s determination that this case may be a miscarriage of justice was the first step in that process. Today’s ruling that Wade can live with his family and loved ones while the process unfolds is the second. We look forward to the day when the courts recognize that he is innocent.”

Mr. Skiffington, age 53, has been in prison for more than 17 years for the murder of his fiancée, Wanda Martin, a crime that he vehemently insists that he did not commit. Before and since his legally dubious “Mr. Big” confession, Mr. Skiffington has always maintained his innocence. Despite being a model prisoner, he has been denied parole because he will not participate in correctional programming that he perceives requires him to admit guilt for a crime he did not commit – the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” or “Catch 22”. Following Justice Tammen’s decision granting him bail, Mr. Skiffington expressed the hope that his seemingly interminable nightmare may finally be coming to and end.

On June 14, 2017, Mr. Skiffington filed an application pursuant to Part XXI.1 of the Criminal Code for Ministerial Review of his conviction. On June 7, 2018, the Department of Justice’s Criminal Convictions Review Group (CCRG) concluded that there was a reasonable possibility Mr. Skiffington could have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and has commenced a full investigation into his case. 

Under Part XXI.1, convicted persons who have exhausted the courts’ appeal process can apply for a review provided they can furnish new and significant information. The Minister can choose to turn down the application; refer it to a provincial appellate court for a fully contested appeal; or direct that a new trial be held. Previous exonerees who went through the lengthy S.696.1 process include Steven Truscott, Robert Baltovich and Romeo Phillion. To date, Innocence Canada (formally known as AIDWYC – the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted) has helped exonerate 22 innocent people. 

The Department of Justice’s review of Mr. Skiffington’s conviction is based largely, although not entirely, on the question of whether the only evidence capable of sustaining the conviction, a confession made during an undercover Mr. Big sting, can be said to be reliable when analyzed in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canada’s seminal decision in R. v. Hart, rendered in 2014. If his confession is deemed to be unreliable, Mr. Skiffington’s conviction cannot stand.  
Wanda Martin was shot multiple times in a friend’s apartment building in Richmond, B.C. on September 6, 1994. Her fiancé Wade Skiffington immediately became the subject of police scrutiny, as many domestic partners naturally are, but there was never any forensic evidence tying him to the offence and independent third-party witnesses readily established that he had a credible alibi and no realistic opportunity to commit the offence. Mr. Skiffington was completely co-operative with police in the aftermath of Wanda’s homicide, providing them with multiple statements and permitting a search of his residence. Residents who lived close to the crime scene reported a man, who was not Wade Skiffington, behaving in a very suspicious manner in the neighbourhood shortly after the homicide. 

Innocence Canada believes that the police investigation into Wanda Martin’s murder was a classic case of tunnel-vision, a known cause of wrongful convictions, and that police failed to pursue alternative suspects and rudimentary avenues of investigation that may well have resulted in the apprehension of the person who killed Wanda Martin. Instead, with their focus solely on Wade Skiffington, in 2000, six years after Wanda’s murder, police initiated a costly, intricate and violent “Mr. Big” undercover operation where they posed as gangsters – all in an attempt to coerce a confession from Mr. Skiffington. Under immense pressure, and with a genuine fear of violent repercussions if he did not tell the undercover boss what he wanted to hear, Wade Skiffington confessed to a crime he did not commit. That confession, without any corroborating evidence, and with many details that showed it to be false, resulted in Mr. Skiffington’s conviction and a life sentence with no chance of parole for 13 years.   

Following Justice Tammen’s decision granting Mr. Skiffington’s release from custody, Tamara Duncan, of Innocence Canada, co-counsel for Mr. Skiffington, stated, “In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in the Hart decision that the Mr. Big investigative technique could become abusive and could produce unreliable confessions which are a known cause of wrongful convictions. We have long believed that this is precisely what happened in Wade’s case and that the Mr. Big sting targeting him coerced a false confession which resulted in his wrongful conviction. Wade’s fight to clear his name is far from over, but today’s ruling in an important step in this process.”

Mr. Campbell added: “Mr. Big has a unique capacity to get suspects talking but it also has a powerful potential to distort the truth and elicit false confessions. This case, with such coercive tactics and so little confirmation, is an example of the technique at its worst. It’s the kind of case for which the Supreme Court of Canada formulated new legal rules in 2014.”

For further information or comment, please contact Innocence Canada co-counsel Phil Campbell (416-579-3321; or Tamara Duncan (778-998-7950).