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Indigenous men acquitted of 1970’s murder in Winnipeg now suing three levels of government

Two men who were acquitted of a 1973 murder in Winnipeg are now suing three levels of government for their wrongful convictions.

Allan Woodhouse and Brian Anderson, now in their 60s, received life sentences for the killing of restaurant worker, Ting Fong Chan, who was attacked as he walked from work in downtown Winnipeg more than 50 years ago.

Both men, who are members of Pinaymootang First Nation, filed a statement with the Court of King’s Bench on Tuesday against the City of Winnipeg, the Government of Manitoba, and the attorney generals for Manitoba and Canada.

According to court documents, they are suing for unspecified damages including, loss of liberty for 50 years, loss of reputation, privacy, pain, and developmental experiences, enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering.

In both suits, “the admitted existence of racism at all stages…is a highly aggravating factor.”

The suits also state, that “the conduct of the defendants was high-handed, outrageous, scandalous, reckless, entirely without care or consideration,” intentional – or in disregard – of Woodhouse and Anderson’s rights, and “exploited (their) vulnerability” as young Indigenous men.

Legal documents claim, “Their conduct was done in bad faith, tortious, offends the moral standards of community and warrants the condemnation of this court.”

None of the allegations have been proven in a court of law.

Case background

Then-Justice Minister David Lametti ordered a new trial for the men in June 2023 but crown prosecutors in Manitoba instead asked for an acquittal.

A judge determined that Anderson and Woodhouse had maintained their innocence for five decades, “were unequivocally factually innocent of the murder, there was a miscarriage of justice,” and “individual and systematic racial discrimination dominated in the investigation and prosecution stages and ultimately the verdict itself.”

The lawsuits state that on July 22, 1973, Allan Woodhouse, Clarence Woodhouse, and Russell Woodhouse – all Indigenous men, were arrested by Winnipeg Police Service officers.

Anderson, 18 at the time, was arrested on July 23, 1973, and charged with Fong’s murder.

The lawsuit states that racism was a factor in their arrests and this led to false confessions.

“The co-accused were subjected to violence, threats, racial slurs, and other racialized abuse, and as a result, they provided false confessions,” states the lawsuit.

Anderson, Allan Woodhouse, and Clarence Woodhouse were convicted of murder, and Russell Woodhouse was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

During their 1974 trial, the only evidence produced were the false confessions of the accused and co-accused.

The pair filed appeals in 1974 but those were denied. Anderson was also denied leave to appeal to the Supreme Court a year later.

Anderson was released on parole in 1987 and Allan Woodhouse in 1990.

Clarence Woodhouse was granted bail in October 2023, while their brother Russell Woodhouse died in 2011.

Anderson and Woodhouse’s lawsuits allege a negligent investigation from WPS, including failing to conduct a thorough and fair investigation, perpetuating racist beliefs and failing to provide access to an Objibwe/Sauteaux interpreter as it was their first language.

They also allege the police failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into whether the coerced confessions were true, and arresting and testifying against the men knowing there was “no reasonable or probable causes” for their arrests and prosecution.

Both lawsuits also allege malicious prosecution by former Manitoba prosecutor George Dangerfield, claiming he “knowingly or recklessly engaged in conduct in violation of his ethical duties as an officer of the court.”

The suits also accuse Dangerfield of “perpetuated racist stereotypes,” engaging in a “win-at-all-costs attitude,” and failure to disclose material evidence during their trials.

The suits allege the province and attorney generals are liable for the conduct of Dangerfield.

The lawsuit also said Canada failed to ensure that the “administration of justice treated Indigenous peoples fairly and without discrimination, and that it has a duty…to address claims of wrongful conviction and investigate such claims, but “did not do so in a timely matter.”

It additionally failed to ensure their Charter rights were not violated.

The defendants have not yet filed responses.

Representatives for the City of Winnipeg said, “The City has no comment to provide while the matter is before the courts.”

Representatives for the province said, “It would not be appropriate to comment on matters before the court.”

The Department of Justice sent an email saying in part, “Counsel for the Attorney General of Canada are reviewing and will respond in due course.”

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