R v Coffin
R v Coffin In the summer of 1953 the bodies of 3 American hunters were found in a Gaspé forest. Wilbert Coffin, a local prospector, was charged with and convicted of the murder of one of them, Richard Lindsay. Almost from the beginning, the case was controversial; it was charged that Coffin had not received a fair trial and that the Québec government had applied pressure on police and crown prosecutors to obtain an immediate conviction because of concern over the possible loss of the American tourist trade. Largely because of public concern, the federal Cabinet ordered a special reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld Coffin's conviction. He was hanged on 10 Feb 1956.
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court's ruling, the controversy did not diminish and various books continued to claim that Coffin was innocent and had been the victim of unprofessional conduct by police and prosecutors. The Québec government appointed a royal commission in 1964 (Brossard Committee) to investigate the accusations. The commission's report concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the prosecutors or police officers and that Coffin had received a fair trial.
To lawyers the Coffin case is an important decision on evidence dealing with rules relating to hearsay evidence, leading questions and contradiction of one's own witness, but the Coffin case is important as well in any debate over capital punishment, in which it is inevitably cited in support of the argument for abolition.