When David Lametti met David Milgaard in his office a few years back, he pulled a copy of The Tragically Hip's "Fully Completely" off a shelf and asked Milgaard to sign his record.

Its song "Wheat Kings" was inspired by the wrongful conviction that kept Milgaard falsely imprisoned for 23 years, starting when he was a teenager.

"He called David his hero when he was a student," recalled James Lockyer, a Toronto-based lawyer who helped found the organization Innocence Canada, which works to exonerate people like Milgaard, who died last year.

"He had a photographer come in and take multiple photographs with him and David in his office … I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's framed one.

"I saw how visibly affected he was, and it visibly affected me to see that."

As justice minister, Lametti introduced legislation earlier this year seeking to establish a long-fought-for independent commission to review cases where a miscarriage of justice is suspected. The law is named after Milgaard and his mother, Joyce, who fought tirelessly to see him freed.

Lametti's passion for the issue will undoubtedly form part of his legacy, Lockyer said.

"He has advanced the cause of the wrongly convicted immensely," he said, adding that Lametti also ordered reviews into several cases, including that of two Indigenous men in Winnipeg who were recently acquitted of a 1973 murder.

"We don't know if we'd have got them with another minister," Lockyer said.

David Lametti's legacy as justice minister is advancing cause of wrongfully convicted. #CDNPoli

Lametti was one of seven members of Parliament dropped from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet during a shuffle on Wednesday. Trudeau promoted a number of rookies, including Arif Virani, a Toronto MP who takes over the justice portfolio.

First elected in 2015 when the Liberals swept into power, Lametti represents the Montreal riding of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun and was the lone Quebec representative to lose his post in this week's shuffle.

His removal — not only from the role of justice minister and attorney general, which he held since 2019, but from cabinet altogether — has left many Liberals scratching their heads, and others surprised.

"It's sort of disappointing to see him go," said Daniel Brown, president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association.

"There was a lot of things that the Liberal government had talked about doing for many years, including sentencing and bail reform and creating a process to address wrongful convictions in Canada, and Mr. Lametti accomplished that."

In a statement he released after the new cabinet was announced, Lametti pointed out the 13 bills passed on his watch, including the elimination of some mandatory minimum penalties.

He also dealt with growing pressure from premiers, police chiefs, victims' rights groups and Pierre Poilievre, leader of the federal Conservatives, for the Liberal government to toughen up bail laws. Critics have alleged the current system is letting too many violent repeat offenders go free.

Many criminal justice experts dispute that as anecdotal, saying it is not backed by evidence.

After speaking with provincial counterparts, Lametti introduced a bail reform bill in May that he said would make it more difficult for people charged with certain violent offences to access bail before a trial.

Lametti also faced criticism over the large number of judicial vacancies in courts across the country, as well as the Liberal government's decision to expand the medical assistance in dying regime to include people whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness. That expansion has been delayed.

As attorney general, he was also one of several high-profile ministers to testify at last fall's public inquiry into the government's decision to use the Emergencies Act to clear the "Freedom Convoy" blockades in early 2022.

Despite repeated questions, Trudeau has not shed light on his decision to dump Lametti.

When he was asked again while touring a sawmill in Newfoundland on Thursday, the prime minister thanked Lametti for his work and said he remains a valuable part of the Liberal team.

"Perhaps he was an easy target," Brown suggested.

Lametti also took to social media to announce to his constituents that he intends to run in the next federal election, whenever it happens.

"I want to reassure my constituents and electors that I intend to remain your MP and continue serving you in the House of Commons," he wrote.

Before his election in 2015, Lametti taught law at McGill University.

In his statement addressing his exit from cabinet, the MP said that as a proud Italian Canadian, he worked with colleagues to help see Trudeau deliver an apology in 2021 for their internment during the Second World War.

Lametti also said he looks forward seeing the creation of the commission into miscarriages of justice.

He acknowledged that expediting the review process was a cause that was deeply personal to him.

Speaking to reporters the day after Milgaard died in May 2022, Lametti said he had successfully pushed to ensure the commission was part of his mandate letter as justice minister.

"Excuse me for getting emotional," he said at the time. "I can assure you that this will happen."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2023.

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