Serving as a voice for the wrongly convicted

Members of the SSHSS in their matching sweaters pose with Associate Dean Brian Cutler, Win Wherer, co-founder of AIDWYC, Practicum Co-ordinator Dan Walters and SA President Ryan LePage (left to right).

Integrity, advocacy and support is their slogan and that’s exactly what UOIT’s Social Sciences and Humanities student society (SSHSS) offers to victims of wrongful conviction.

Win Wahrer, co-founder of The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) was welcomed to UOIT to accept a cheque for nearly $300 raised at SSHSS’s Wrongful Conviction Day.

This year was the first Wrongful Conviction Day. Universities, colleges and organizations all over Canada and the United States participated.

“From the bottom of my heart but most importantly on behalf of the wrongly convicted, I thank you,” Wahrer said.

The money raised goes directly into the organization’s work. This includes providing legal assistance to victims, assisting them when they are released from prison and raising public awareness.

“It was a huge success. We are proud of our accomplishments as well as the student turnout and the amount raised,” said Cherlene Cheung, president of the SSHSS.

Although it’s impossible to put a number on the amount of innocent men and women serving sentences for crimes they didn’t commit, Canada has seen many high profile cases.

SSHSS President, Cherlene Cheung, signs a cheque for AIDWYC.

AIDWYC reaches out as far as it can but Wahrer said they need more funding to correct wrongful convictions in a more efficient way and avoid similar mistakes in the future.

“The process we have right now is very tedious. It’s very slow and quite truthfully, some people will die in prison before they get their name cleared,” said Wahrer.

AIDWYC has had a long relationship with UOIT since the university first opened its doors. There used to be an office on campus. Dan Walters, practicum coordinator for the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities remains in close contact with Wahrer and AIDWYC.

Walters recalls attending a Toronto International Film Festival after party with Wahrer. They met a star from Witch Hunt who was exonerated. Walters said the man served 35 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

“I asked him a dumb question. I asked if he was angry when he got out,” he said.

According to Walters, the man said he had 35 years to be angry and remorseful but now he has to concentrate on living his life to the fullest, spending time with his family and doing everything he has been thinking about all of those years.

“For me, that redefined the whole concept of strength. It was such a moment,” Walters said. “Win Wahrer made that all possible. She will never toot her own horn but she is the ultimate advocate for people who could use a gust of wind in their sail. She is social justice.”