Justice advocate David Milgaard remembered as champion for those who 'don't have a voice'
Justice advocate David Milgaard, a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent more than two decades in prison, has died.
On Sunday, a family member confirmed with CTV News that Milgaard had passed away, but declined to comment further. Milgaard was 69 years old.
Milgaard, who was born in Winnipeg, had been living in Calgary with his son and daughter.
Milgaard had become a justice advocate after he was wrongfully convicted in 1970 for the rape and murder of Gail Miller in Saskatoon. Milgaard and two friends had been on a road trip, driving through the city when the murder happened. A year later, at the age of 17, Milgaard was convicted of Miller's murder and handed a life sentence.
He spent 23 years in prison before his release in 1992 following a review of his case by the Supreme Court of Canada, and exoneration by DNA evidence in 1997.
"It was the most terrible, terrible moments in my life when the justice department just messed things up so terribly for me," Milgaard told CTV News while in Winnipeg in 2020 speaking on a panel at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights about wrongful convictions.
“Getting out of prison for a person that's been in there a while is not an easy thing to do.”
At the time, Milgaard told CTV News Winnipeg he hoped his presence would inspire and encourage other wrongly convicted people to never give up their fight to prove their innocence and regain their freedom.
Milgaard maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. His mother Joyce Milgaard, who died in 2020, tirelessly advocated on her son's behalf. In the decades since his release, Milgaard had spoken publicly, calling for changes in how Canadian courts review convictions.
His picture is now included in the Canadian Journey's gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Isha Khan, the museum's CEO, said Milgaard was a human rights defender.
"He is someone we know, and the reason we know is because he was able to tell his story, and it takes a special kind of person to continue to try to connect with people," she said, adding his work is not over.
"There are people across this country in correctional institutions who have been wrongfully convicted, who need a voice and don't have a voice that David Milgaard did for whatever reason it may be, and it is our job to listen and to look for those stories."
Milgaard had recently been pushing for an independent review board to prevent miscarriages of justice.
"David was a marvellous advocate for the wrongly convicted, for all the years he's been out since 1992. We're going to miss him a lot. He was a lovely man," James Lockyer, a Toronto-based lawyer, told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Lockyer, a founding director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, joined Milgaard's case following his release in 1992 and helped him through the process to get DNA testing done. Lockyer said as a result of the DNA evidence, a man named Larry Fisher was arrested, and charged with the rape and murder. Fisher died while serving a life sentence.
"David Milgaard's case was a seminal case in Canadian History, and always will be. But more importantly now, he carried on his work, or he started his work, for the other wrongly convicted," Lockyer said.
"I feel like I am carrying on David's work and I want to carry on doing that – it is a testament to David that we are going to keep working for his cause."
-With files from CTV's Jill Macyshon, Kevin Green and Mason DePatie
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