Supreme Court says federal government doesn’t owe millions to Rejean Hinse

Rejean Hinse speaks to reporters at a news conference in Montreal Thursday, April 14, 2011 outlining details of a $13.1 million compensation settlement from the federal and Quebec governments after being wrongly convicted and spending eight years in prison. The CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada says the federal government doesn’t have to pay millions of dollars to a wrongfully convicted man from Quebec.

Rejean Hinse was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1964 for an armed robbery he didn’t commit.

He protested his innocence, saying he was 200 kilometres away when the crime took place.

It wasn’t until 1989 that a review by Quebec Police Commission showed Hinse’s conviction resulted from a botched investigation.

A police officer who identified Hinse at trial recanted his testimony and the co-accused in the case told authorities Hinse wasn’t involved.

The Supreme Court formally acquitted him in 1997, paving the way for Hinse to sue the province of Quebec and the federal government for damages.

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The province settled for $4.5 million in 2011 and the Quebec Superior court ordered the federal government to pay $5.8 million.

The Quebec Court of Appeal threw out the award and in an 8-0 ruling, the Supreme Court has upheld that decision, saying Hinse didn’t prove the federal government acted maliciously when it didn’t approve his applications for mercy.

The court said the government could only be at fault if the justice minister acted irrationally or in bad faith, which didn’t happen in Hinse’s case.

READ MORE: Quebecer who spent eight years in prison gets $13.1 million in compensation

Hinse submitted three applications for mercy from the federal government between 1967 and 1981.

He also filed an application for a pardon.

All were denied.

On his fourth application, the government told Hinse to take the case to court.

He did.

Hinse argued there was a delay in dealing with his first application, which the court said wasn’t the result of malice.

On the remaining three applications, the court said the second application had “no new evidence or legal arguments,” while the third had “allegations based on vague irregularities.”

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Both applications could have led the minister to dismiss them.

The court said it was impossible to know if the minister would have discovered the same evidence of a botched investigation unearthed 20 years after Hinse’s original application for mercy.

To jump to that conclusion would be to “rely on mere conjecture or remote hypotheticals,” the court said.

“There is no denying that the miscarriage of justice of which Mr. Hinse was a victim is most regrettable,” Justices Richard Wagner and Clement Gascon wrote on behalf of the court.

“However, in the absence of bad faith or serious recklessness on the minister’s part and of a causal connection between his actions and the alleged damage, Mr. Hinse’s action … must fail.”

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