TORONTO - Two men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes and later acquitted were denied compensation Wednesday by the Ontario government despite ordeals their lawyer said "completely wrecked" their lives.
Attorney General Chris Bentley said financial compensation only applied to "rare, unusual cases" and wasn't appropriate in the cases of Robert Baltovich and Anthony Hanemaayer.
"They have both been found not guilty as a result of the steps that the justice system has taken," Bentley said.
"I actually think that speaks to one of the strengths of the justice system in the province of Ontario and in Canada generally."
Baltovich won an acquittal in 2008 for the murder of his girlfriend Elizabeth Bain, a crime for which he served eight years behind bars, while Hanemaayer was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in 1987.
Lawyer James Lockyer sought compensation in both cases as well as an inquiry into why it took the province's top court so long to quash Baltovich's conviction. Calls for a public inquiry were also denied.
"The attorney general's decision today just demonstrates an indifference to the plight of these two men wrongfully convicted," Lockyer said.
"It just seems to me to be an extraordinarily indifferent decision, as bad as anything, as unconscionable as anything I've run into for a while."
Neither Baltovich nor Hanemaayer were surprised with the decision given they way they've been treated by the justice system, Lockyer added.
"Their lives were completely wrecked by what happened to them, the amount of time they spent in jail," said Lockyer, who is also a founding director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
"Rob Baltovich was in for eight years. He went into jail with a recently acquired university degree and has come out unable to secure employment.
"Anthony Hanemaayer is without employment because he can only work seasonally at roofing."
Lockyer has advised them both to pursue a civil lawsuit to try to get financial compensation, and expects them to be successful.
When he initially asked the government to consider compensation in 2008, Lockyer said Baltovich could launch a civil suit against the police for negligence, against the Crown for breach of his Charter rights, and certain individuals in the case. But Lockyer added he didn't want to engage in yet another adversarial court process unless it was "absolutely necessary."
Baltovich was handed a life sentence in 1992 after he was found guilty of killing Bain, who disappeared in 1990, and served eight years before he was given a chance to appeal his case. He was released on bail in 2000. Five years later, Ontario's highest court quashed his conviction, ordering a new trial.
Baltovich was acquitted minutes into that second trial when the Crown said it had no evidence to support a conviction.
Lockyer has alleged the crime was committed by infamous serial rapist and schoolgirl kiler Paul Bernardo - a claim Bernardo has denied.
Hanemaayer pleaded guilty part way through his 1989 trial for the assault of a 15-year-old Toronto girl, opting for a sentence of two years less a day instead of the stiffer six-to 10-year term he faced - a fact Bentley said figured into his decision.
The London, Ont., roofer was linked to the crime on the strength of eyewitness testimony by the victim's mother.
Hanemaayer had his record wiped clean in 2008 after the Ontario Court of Appeal heard the Crown believed Bernardo committed the offence - Bernardo had confessed to the crime in a jailhouse interview with police two years earlier.
NDP critic Peter Kormos said the government's move to deny the men compensation shows a "shameful disregard" for people who were let down by the criminal justice system.
"It's important that they be compensated, and if anything it sends a clear message to the players in the system - police, Crowns and courts - that there will be a price to be paid when the system fails innocent people," said Kormos.
Nearly 20 Canadian men and women have had wrongful convictions acknowledged over the last decade.
Steven Truscott was 14 when he was sentenced to hang when he was convicted of the 1959 murder of schoolmate Lynn Harper. He spent months on death row until his sentence was commuted to life in prison and was paroled in 1969.
The Ontario Court of Appeal declared Truscott a victim of a miscarriage of justice and acquitted him of the crime, but stopped short of declaring him innocent due to a lack of physical evidence.
Truscott received a $6.5-million compensation package from the province of Ontario - a package Bentley described as an "extremely unusual, once-in-a-lifetime situation."