First Nations men wrongfully convicted in Manitoba file lawsuits claiming racism

WINNIPEG — Two First Nations men wrongfully convicted of murdering a restaurant worker are suing three levels of government saying their imprisonment was the result of racial discrimination. 

Brian Anderson and Allan Woodhouse were sentenced to life in prison when they were teens for the killing of Ting Fong Chan, who was stabbed near a Winnipeg construction site in 1973.

They have maintained their innocence for decades. 

The men filed separate statements of claim this week naming the Manitoba government, the Attorney General of Canada and the City of Winnipeg.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed.

The province and city said they would not comment on a matter before the courts. The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuits allege the men were “wrongly convicted as a result of racism, racist stereotypes and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.”

The documents further allege the men’s Charter rights were violated and that officers and that the Crown prosecutor at the time conspired to put them behind bars.

The two men, who are from Pinaymootang First Nation north of Winnipeg, attempted to appeal their convictions to higher courts but were denied.

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of King’s Bench acquitted Anderson and Woodhouse last year after then-federal justice minister David Lametti ordered a new trial, citing unspecified new evidence.

During the hearing, the Crown asked for an acquittal, saying systemic racism had affected the investigation and prosecution. The provincial government also said a miscarriage of justice had taken place.

The men’s convictions were based largely on a signed confession Anderson gave to police.

Anderson’s lawsuit says officers coerced him using “violence, threats, racial slurs and other racialized abuse” and that English was not his first language. 

“Anderson signed a piece of paper on the demand of (the officers). He did not knowingly sign a confession as was alleged,” the document says. 

Woodhouse’s lawsuit says officers told him they had witnesses accusing him of involvement in the killing and they showed him false confessions of two co-accused. 

The document says officers also physically assaulted Woodhouse and verbally abused him.

“As a result of the conduct of the police officers, Woodhouse signed a false confession to stop the abuse,” says the suit.

The false confessions were the only evidence produced at the trial. 

Anderson served almost 11 years and was given full parole in 1987. Woodhouse served 23 years.

They are asking for an undetermined amount in compensation for physical, emotional and psychological harm done.

Two other men were also convicted in Chan’s death. Clarence Woodhouse was granted bail last year, pending a decision from the federal justice minister to quash his conviction. Russell Woodhouse was convicted of manslaughter. He died in 2011.

The lawsuits allege the officers who interrogated Anderson and Allan Woodhouse “breached their duties by relying on and perpetuating racist beliefs and stereotypes to investigate.” 

Woodhouse was met with similar stereotypes while incarcerated, says his lawsuit.

“He was subjected to racism by employees of Correctional Service Canada and by parole officers and psychologists,” says the document.

Both lawsuits allege the prosecutor in the case failed to disclose information to the accused and knowingly presented false evidence. The prosecutor also handled other high-profile wrongful conviction cases.

“Manitoba is vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of its servants including prosecutors,” says the lawsuits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2024. 

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press