Glen Assoun says he wants a public inquiry to determine what led to his wrongful conviction for murder in 1999 and imprisonment for almost 17 years, saying he is afraid the case will be “swept underneath the table.”
On Friday, Assoun was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Brenda Way after federal Justice Minister David Lametti quashed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
The re-trial wrapped up quickly as Crown prosecutor Mark Scott said there was no reasonable prospect for a conviction, and no evidence was presented before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
Way’s body was found in a Halifax-area parking lot on Nov. 12, 1995. Her throat had been slashed and she suffered multiple stab wounds.
Assoun was arrested almost three years later. He was convicted by a jury in a 1999 and sentenced to life in prison. He spent 16 years and eight months behind bars.
For almost two decades, Assoun has insisted he was with his girlfriend on the night Way was killed. He has also contested contradictory testimony from witnesses, some of whom were criminals with suspect motives.
The former Defence Department employee was eventually released on bail in 2014 after federal lawyers determined there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
The reasons for that decision remain under a publication ban.
Now 63 years old, Assoun says he is focusing his energy on finding out what happened.
“I would like to see accountability through the police force, the Halifax police and the Halifax prosecution,” he said in an interview from his daughter’s home in suburban Halifax. “In all the wrongful convictions, there’s never anything done about it.”
WATCH: Glen Assoun speaks to reporters outside a Halifax courtroom after the Crown dropped the case
When Lametti quashed Assoun’s conviction, he issued a statement saying his department’s investigation turned up “relevant and reliable information that was not disclosed” to Assoun during his criminal proceedings.
Philip Campbell, a lawyer who fought for Assoun’s release on behalf of Innocence Canada, said that finding should raise alarm bells.
“Behind that phrase lies a sad (and) to some degree a shocking story, in the telling of which there will eventually be an acute public interest,” Campbell said.
Outside the courtroom, Campbell alleged that police failed to disclose important evidence in the years before a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal case that Assoun lost in 2006.
The RCMP were not immediately available for comment.
Halifax Regional Police issued a statement Monday saying the force was not in a position to comment further.
The province’s justice minister, Mark Furey, issued a statement saying it would be premature to “determine what possible next steps may be considered.”
Felix Cacchione, director of the Serious Incident Response Team – the province’s police watchdog – said his agency doesn’t have a mandate to investigate the matter because the case occurred before the agency’s creation.
However, Cacchione said the public interest would be served by a broader investigation, such as a public inquiry similar to the probe into Donald Marshall Jr.’s wrongful conviction.
Kent Roach, a professor of criminal law at the University of Toronto, said he sees parallels between the Marshall case and Assoun’s wrongful conviction.
Marshall served 11 years for his wrongful conviction for murder in 1971. In 1990, the Mi’kmaq man, who would later become a well-known Indigenous leader, was exonerated by a royal commission that found he was the victim of a criminal justice system marked by racism and incompetence.
Roach said the injustice against Marshall led the Supreme Court of Canada to establish a broad right of disclosure of evidence for the accused.
“A public inquiry or perhaps some other accountability mechanism may be necessary to see if Mr. Assoun’s broad constitutional right to disclosure was respected in his 1999 trial and during his post-conviction period,” said Roach.
“A public inquiry could also examine other important matters, such as the Crown’s reliance on certain witnesses and the need for proper compensation.”
Assoun and his lawyers have argued that police worked obsessively to prove a case that was badly flawed.
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