Donald Marshall: 1953-2009

Donald Marshall (CP)

Donald Marshall (CP)

Donald Marshall, the Mi’kmaq man best known to most Canadians as having spent 11 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, has died at the age of 55.

Donald Marshall was convicted of the murder of his acquaintance Sandy Seale in 1971 during a mugging gone wrong and sentenced to life in prison. In 1983, a witness came forward who stated that he had seen another man stab Seale. In the original “rush to justice” the police had determined that, although Roy Ebsary, the intended mugging victim had a knife, Marshall had for some unknown reason turned on Seale and murdered him. As it was later shown, Ebsary had stabbed Seale which resulted in his death.

The presiding judge at Marshall’s appeal, although overturning the original conviction, blamed Marshall for his own conviction, despite the fact that the Crown had failed to turn over evidence and reveal facts (such as contradictory information from witnesses and coerced statements) which would have cleared him and pointed to Ebsary.

It was as a result of the findings (seven volumes worth) of the 1989 Royal Commission looking into the wrongful conviction that Canada changed the rules on the disclosure of evidence. Evidence collected by both Prosecution and Defence must be shared between them. It found that Marshall had been the victim of racism and pointed to significant failures by both the Crown and the Defnece which led to his conviction.

As the CBC put it “The name Donald Marshall is almost synonymous with ‘wrongful conviction’ and the fight for native justice in Canada.”

In later years, Marshall petitioned the Crown over Native fishing rights, in a case R. vs. Marshall (1999). Two landmark decisions resulted from that case. The first (R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 456) found that the right of Native fishers catching and selling of eels was valid under 1760 and 1761 treaties between the aboriginals and the colonial government, and that any licensing system or regulatory prohibitions would infringe the treaty right. The second seemed to retreat from the original finding by deciding that Natives are still subject to Canadian law.

This first finding angered non-Aboriginal fishers because they saw a bias in the law which gave Aboriginal fishers rights that they did not have (despite the fact that Aboriginal fisheries are minuscule operations compared to those operated my non-Aboriginals).

The second finding angered Native fishers because it seemed to undermine the findings of the first findings.

In 2003, Donald Marshall had a lung transplant. It was problems arising from the anti-rejection drugs that led to his death, today.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Marshall in Ottawa during the National Aboriginal Day celebrations in 1998.

Drat! PhotoHunter Addendum…. Walking

It wasn’t until I visited someone else’s blog that I remembered that I used to spend a whole weekend (Labour Day Weekend) walking up and down and up and down a very long beach on the Upper Ottawa River, near Fort William, an old Hudson’s Bay trading fort.


My friend Kelly’s family owned a cottage above the beach and we would go every Labour Day Weekend there. The spor has a long, wide sandy beach which was a long-used stopping point and hunting area for te Algonquin Indians who migrated up and down the Ottawa River in days gone by.

As a result, you can find arrow heads and the odd piece of pottery left long ago by the Natives. Down near the fort, you find thousands of shards of dishes from either the fort or the Fort William Hotel which stands next to the fort, as well as broken bits of old clay tobacco pipes.

Pot Sherd, arrowheads and flakes

Pot Sherd, arrowheads, scrapers, and flakes

On the far left, above, there is a small sherd of low-fired pottery. The two pieces to the right of that are a part of what appears to be a spear point and below that, a complete arrowhead. The three in the centre are scrapers, and the 7 pieces on the right are flakes from the making of points and scrapers.

One summer, I was wading and started to slip on a rock. I grabbed hold of a piece of metal pipe sticking up out of the water. It came up in my hand and I discovered that it was the barrel of an old Hudson’s Bay trade flintlock. I still have it somewhere. You can tell from its distinctive six sided shape and the lead inlay around the barrel.


Sunset, Fort William boat-landing

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