Rob Currie is known for his expertise in Canadian and international criminal law — both as a professor at the Schulich School of Law for 15 years, and as a sought-after speaker and media commentator. But he’s also known for something else: songwriting. Having been writing songs since his teens, he released his second solo album, Take Me Back, in June, co-produced with former Dalhousie music instructor Bob Sutherby.
One of the 11 tracks, “Romeo,” conveys the story of Romeo Phillion, a Canadian who was wrongly convicted of a 1967 murder and spent 31 years in prison before being exonerated on April 29, 2010, his 71st birthday. Throughout his incarceration, Phillion maintained his innocence and so never sought parole.
“It is an appalling, complex story and a terrible tragedy, and it really hit me hard,” says Prof. Currie, who watched a W5 episode about Phillion about a decade ago. “I’ve always been interested in folk music as social commentary, and this story cried out for a song. I worked on it for years before I finally finished it.”
Those who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime often have prior criminal records and have been incorrectly targeted by the police. Adding to that complexity, many wrongfully convicted persons also struggle with untreated mental illnesses. (Phillion was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder).
Sharing Phillion's story
Prof. Currie, who is also director of the Law and Technology Institute at Dal, wants people to be aware of the injustices suffered by the wrongly convicted. He says that while Canadians rely on the courts to get decisions right, they sometimes don’t — even with modern forensic evidence and the testimony of objective experts — and a wrongful conviction could someday hit close to home.
“If it isn’t you, your family member, friend or neighbour today, it could be tomorrow,” says Prof. Currie. “A wrongful conviction is a stain on the justice system, and the human cost is compelling. Even if an exonerated person sues for restitution, money is a poor substitute for the loss of freedom and dignity—never mind that prison is a terrible place. Any wrongly convicted person would give up the restitution to get their freedom back.”
After recording “Romeo,” Prof. Currie sent it to Toronto-based AIDWYC (The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted), which in turn contacted Phillion, who listened to it. “He said he liked it,” says Prof. Currie, who plans to donate a portion of the royalties to AIDWYC to help raise awareness of wrongful convictions. “I hope to meet him someday.”
Professor Rob Currie performed “Romeo” and talked about wrongful convictions in the first Know Your Dal “pop-up” lecture on Tuesday, September 8. For details, visit: dal.ca/knowyourdal. Wrongful Conviction Day is Friday, Oct. 2. Learn more at: aidwyc.org/wcd-2015.
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