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Fred Kaufman. Searching for Justice: An Autobiography Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. xii, 404. $65.00

Fred Kaufman has written a compelling account of his extraordinary life. Kaufman was born into a comfortable life in Vienna in 1924. His parents saved to send him to camp only to bring him home when he called them [End Page 587] complaining he was homesick. Life, however, was never the same with the rise to power of the Nazis. In 1939, the fifteen-year-old Kaufman was evacuated to Britain. The chief rabbi who had presided a few years earlier at his bar mitzvah was forced to scrub the streets with a toothbrush. Worse indignities remained for those left behind.

Kaufman was adopted by a kindly family who treated him well but this only lasted for ten months before he was interned as an enemy alien and eventually sent to Canada. Jewish refugees were imprisoned side by side with German prisoners and Nazi sympathizers. These early experiences of injustice, however, fuelled Kaufman's passion for justice. He writes how his experience as an innocent man imprisoned helped him to understand the 'agony' of the wrongfully convicted whom he would later assist.

When released, Kaufman made up for lost time by earning three degrees, the last two while also working as a reporter. His experience as a reporter helped him throughout his legal career, and colleagues would tease him that his short, clear judgments during his eighteen years on the Quebec Court of Appeal were 'press releases.'

Before his appointment to the bench, Kaufman was a leading lawyer in Montreal. When Pierre Trudeau phoned to offer Kaufman an appointment to the bench, he recalled how Kaufman facilitated Trudeau's release after Trudeau had a misunderstanding with the police. Kaufman faced far more serious cases as he successfully defended many accused from the death penalty.

In the best traditions of the bar, Kaufman also acted as prosecutor, most notably in cases arising from a 1969 university riot and the 1970 October Crisis. Kaufman still supports Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act and recounts how he and his family were guarded by soldiers and police during this tense time.

Kaufman is best known for his work since he retired from the bench in 1991. He conducted the royal commission into Guy Paul Morin's wrongful conviction and made important findings about how police investigations and prosecutions can be tainted by tunnel vision, how forensic evidence can be contaminated and misinterpreted, and how jailhouse snitches can lie. Although no one intends to convict an innocent person, Kaufman warned that wrongful convictions are not an 'aberration' and that they are rooted in 'systemic problems' in criminal justice systems throughout the world. Kaufman sees his report as 'the most important undertaking of my career.' It has influenced law reform not only in Canada but elsewhere and it influenced the Supreme Court of Canada to conclude that people should not be extradited from Canada to face the death penalty because of the ever-present risk of wrongful convictions.

Kaufman did not stop with the Morin case. He volunteered to preside at an informal hearing where witnesses who had helped Leonard Peltier be extradited from Canada recanted their testimony. He subsequently wrote [End Page 588] to President Clinton supporting a pardon for Peltier who had been convicted of killing two fbi agents at Wounded Knee, but to no avail. He also recommended that the Stephen Truscott case be reopened because of new evidence, evidence that was not disclosed to the accused, and better understandings of forensic evidence.

Kaufman's story is not all about his work. He recounts two emergency landings during the three years he flew recreational planes. He also recounts his loving relationship with his wife, Donna, who earned a law degree after their two children were grown and has a successful career in business. The Kaufmans have resettled in Toronto to be closer to their children. Jacques Parizeau's comments about 'money and the ethnic vote' being responsible for the defeat of the 1995 sovereignty referendum, however, understandably made it easier for them to leave Quebec. Now past eighty years...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 587-589
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-27
Open Access
N
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