In June 1959, Lynne Harper was murdered.
She was 12 years old when she died. She lived with her parents and her two brothers at the Royal Canadian Air Force station in Clinton, Ontario.
Steven Truscott was 14 at the time. He lived with his parents, two brothers and a sister at the same RCAF station as did Lynne.
Early on the evening of June 9, 1959, Steven gave Lynne a ride on the crossbar of his bicycle. They rode from the local school that both attended, heading north along the County Road.
What happened next remains unknown.
At about 11:20 that evening, Lynne's father reported her missing. Two days later, on June 11, 1959, her body was found in a wooded area known as Lawson's Bush that is located adjacent to the County Road. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
The next evening, on June 12, 1959, Steven was taken into custody and later that night, at about 2:30 a.m., he was charged with first degree murder. On June 20, 1959, he was ordered to stand trial as an adult.
The preliminary inquiry was held the following month and, on July 14, 1959, Steven was committed to stand trial for capital murder.
He remained in custody in the Goderich jail pending his trial.
The trial was held during the last two weeks of September 1959. On September 30, 1959, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation for mercy. The presiding judge sentenced Steven to be hanged, as was required under the law as it then stood.
Steven's subsequent appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal was dismissed on January 21, 1960. Immediately thereafter, the Government of Canada commuted Steven's sentence to life imprisonment.
Up until that time, Steven had been held in custody at the Huron County Jail in Goderich. Following the commutation of his death sentence, he was transferred to the Kingston Penitentiary for assessment, but remained there only briefly. Beginning in February 1960, Steven was held at the Ontario Training School for Boys, in Guelph.
In the interim, Steven applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, his leave application was dismissed on February 24, 1960.
For the next three years, Steven remained at the Ontario Training School for Boys. Then, in January 1963, when he turned 18, he was transferred to the Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston.
Approximately three years later, the case returned to the public's attention with the publication of a book entitled The Trial of Steven Truscott, by Isabel LeBourdais, which raised a number of questions about the reliability of the conviction. In April 1966, in response to the debate sparked by Ms. LeBourdais' book, 1 the federal cabinet took the extraordinary step of directing a Reference of the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, pursuant to section 55 of the Supreme Court Act, R.S.C. 1952, c. 259. The Order in Council explained the reason for the Reference as follows:
[There exists widespread concern as to whether there was a miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Steven Murray Truscott and it is in the public interest that the matter be inquired into. 2
The scope of the Reference was broad. The Supreme Court was to consider the matter as if it were an appeal brought pursuant to what was then section 597A of the Criminal Code, which permitted the Court to review not only findings of law, but also findings of fact and mixed fact and law.
At the hearing of the Reference, the Court considered both the trial record and a significant volume of fresh evidence. Included in this fresh evidence was the testimony of Steven Truscott, who provided viva voce evidence for the first time before the full panel of the Supreme Court.
Based on all of the evidence, eight of the nine judges concluded that the jury's verdict should stand. 3 First, the majority held that, based on the original evidentiary record, the jury's verdict was not unreasonable:
On a review of all of the evidence given at the trial we are of the opinion that, on the record as it then stood, the verdict could not be set aside on the ground that it was unreasonable or could not be supported by the evidence. 4
Then, the majority went on to state that nothing in the new evidence gave it reason to doubt the correctness of the original conviction:
We have already stated our conclusion that the verdict of the jury reached on the record at the trial ought not to be disturbed. The effect of the fresh evidence which we heard on the Reference, considered in its entirety, is to strengthen that view. 5
Accordingly, the majority ruled that, had an appeal of the conviction been heard by the Supreme Court, it would have been dismissed.
The lone dissenting judge, Mr. Justice Hall, would have quashed the conviction and ordered a new trial. His decision was based on a number of factors, including his conclusion that the trial judge had wrongly permitted the Crown to lead highly prejudicial similar fact evidence, 6 that other prejudicial, non-probative evidence had been improperly admitted, 7 and that the trial judge's charge to the jury contained a number of misdirections. 8
Following the release of the Supreme Court's decision in May 1967, Steven was held for a further two-and-a-half years at Collins Bay, until he was released on parole on October 21, 1969. By the time of his release, Steven had served over ten years in custody. He had an unblemished institutional record.
Later in this report, I will review in greater detail the time that Steven spent in prison and his life after his release. For present purposes, it is sufficient to note that, by all accounts, in the almost 40 years since his release, Steven Truscott has lived the life of an exemplary citizen.
- Ms. LeBourdais' book was not the only publication that dealt with Mr. Truscott's trial and conviction. There were many others, among them Until You Are Dead: Steven Truscott's Long Ride Into History, by Julian Sher; The Steven Truscott Story, by Bill Trent; Mind Over Murder: DNA. and Other Forensic Adventures, by Jack Batten; "Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old", by Pierre Berton, along with countless newspaper articles and television stories..
- Order in Council dated April 26, 1966, P.C. 1966-760.
- Re Truscott,  S.C.R. 309 at 312 (hereinafter "Supreme Court Reference").
- Supreme Court Reference, supra note 3 at 366.
- Supreme Court Reference, supra note 3 at 367.
- Supreme Court Reference, supra note 3 at 387.
- Supreme Court Reference, supra note 3 at 392-393 and 398.
- Supreme Court Reference, supra note 3 at 392-393, 400, 409 and 411.