Probably uniquely in Canadian history, he has become the central figure of both a major public inquiry and a landmark Supreme Court decision, on two such uncompletely related matters as a wrongful murder conviction and aboriginal treaty fishing rights.
Public attention just comes to him even when he doesn't seek it, and so does trouble, it appears:
Marshall, 52, of the Membertou First Nation, was ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment after a court was told he allegedly tried to run over another Membertou man on New Year's Eve. "I don't have all the information on what prompted the two individuals to be feuding in the way they were," RCMP Const. Paul Tobin said Wednesday.
"But it started on Oct. 30, up until New Year's Eve, so obviously there are ongoing problems between the two parties."
Marshall, whose wrongful conviction in 1971 put the Nova Scotia justice system on trial, will return to court Feb. 2.
One of Marshall's supporters spoke in his defence Wednesday, saying his wrongful conviction and his subsequent court battles for native rights have made him an icon within the native community.
Chief Lawrence Paul of the Millbrook First Nation, spokesman for the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq, said he believes any problems Marshall is having stem from the 11 years he spent in a federal penitentiary for a murder he did not commit.
"That must have had an awful impact on the man," said Paul. "I would say any problems he is having now could be traced back to the hard time he had when he was 17 years old and being locked up for years for a crime he didn't commit."
Spending 11 years in jail for a crime you didn't commit is bound to shade the rest of your life. He can never get that time back, and money and apologies still remain inadequate compensation. But a get out of jail free card can't be played every time. Marshall was released from prison 23 years ago as a relatively young man of 29. Prime years lost, to be sure, but not a whole effective life.
Even the most victimized people can't be exalted in their victimhood forever. Whatever wrongs society has committed against them does not excuse them of future wrongs they may commit. To hold Donald Marshall Jr. to a lower standard merely because of his previous wrongful conviction is to treat him not as a man responsible for his actions, and thus capable of being a net contributor to society but as a helpless dependent owed a debt that can never be repaid. It is to mistreat him in the same way that his people have been mistreated by a paternalistic treaty and reserve system.
The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judges who declared him the "author of his own misfortune" in the decision that vacated his murder conviction may have been wiser than they were credited for.
Had he been brought up to have or learned a little more self-regard and regard for others, he'd not have been out to roll drunks in Wentworth Park the night Roy Ebsary murdered Sandy Seale. Nor would he be in his current sad state.