location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 5 / Chapter 1 Involuntary Transfers: Greyhound Therapy Then and Now / Disclosure of Information -- Faceless Informers and Barbarian Princes

In the most recent public inquiry into a wrongful conviciton, that of Thomas Sophonow, the retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory was far more scathing in his condemnation of the use of jailhouse informants, describing them as a "uniquely evil group" who "should as far as it is possible, be excised and removed from our trial process" ( Report of the Inquiry Regarding Thomas Sophonow [Winnipeg: Manitoba Department of Justice, 2001] [Chairman: Peter Cory] at 40 Online )

The need for extreme caution in relying on informers is even greater in the correctional context. In a criminal trial, the informer must take the witness stand and is subject to vigorous cross-examination by defence counsel. As the Guy Paul Morin case demonstrates, even this protection may not be enough to challenge the credibility of a well tutored and experienced informant; hence there is a need for special procedures to review the use of an informant and special instructions to the jury in considering the evidence. A prisoner facing segregation or involuntary transfer based on information from an informant is not given an opportunity to cross-examine his accuser; indeed, in most cases the informant's identity remains concealed from the prisoner. Yet there are no special committees evaluating the use of the informant's information nor any process in which the equivalent of a warning to the jury can be given.

While it is the high-profile criminal trials such as Guy Paul Morin's that have become the lightning rod for critical concern, the use of jailhouse informants in criminal proceedings is an exceptional event. The use of such informants in correctional decision-making is commonplace, however, and thus the occasions for possible miscarriage of justice are multiplied. For this reason, independent adjudication of decisions that rely upon such information must be entrenched in correctional law. It is only within such a framework that the scrutiny and caution which accompanies the use of jailhouse informants in a criminal context will be given meaning behind the walls.

Page 5 of 5

Justice Peter Cory