Innocence Canada says government should offer ‘compassionate’ compensation to Glen Assoun

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It took nearly 18 years behind bars before Glen Assoun could share the details of his story. Jesse Thomas has more.

The co-president of Innocence Canada calls the Glen Assoun case one of the worst examples of injustice he’s ever seen.

From the suppression of information to the destruction of police files and evidence, Ron Dalton says police had “strong suspicions” that showed Assoun was likely innocent of the murder of Brenda Way, but they didn’t act on that and instead, they tried to suppress that information.

“We know now that the justice system, like most institutions, is made up of people and they are not perfect,” said Dalton, who picked up the case when Assoun’s own appeals were exhausted.

READ MORE: N.S. minister holds off comment on wrongful conviction case due to past as Mountie

“We’d like to think the justice system works but we know it makes mistakes,” said Dalton. “And you’ll see when you dig into Glen’s case, that when it makes mistakes, unfortunately, they cover up the mistakes, instead of dealing with them.”

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The RCMP addressed the allegations of wrongdoing last week and said an internal administrative review was conducted to determine what happened. It said the deletion of files was not done with malicious intent but was an error and goes against its policy and protocol and should never have happened.

Innocence Canada spent five years digging into the Assoun case, pouring through evidence and re-interviewing key witnesses to prove Assoun’s innocence and uncover Way’s real killer.

“Glen’s story will end with Glen but the murder of Brenda Way doesn’t end,” said Dalton. “That’s still an open murder case. Someone murdered that girl and has never been held accountable for it.”

Assoun spent nearly 17 years behind bars for the crime he adamantly claimed he did not commit, but it wasn’t until Innocence Canada took on Assoun’s case and appealed the second-degree murder charge that he was eventually cleared.

READ MORE: Timeline — The wrongful murder conviction of Halifax’s Glen Assoun

It was Innocence Canada’s investigation that uncovered that the RCMP had deleted all files from Const. Dave Moore, who was conducting an independent investigation that was narrowing in on serial killer Michael McGray as a top suspect in Way’s murder.

None of the information — which Dalton said could have freed Assoun — was provided to the Crown or defence. Instead, it was destroyed, and Assoun spent eight more years behind bars.

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Now that Assoun has been fully exonerated and a judge has removed a publication ban, revealing all the details of the case, he is free to tell his story, but the 63-year-old is in poor physical and mental health and cannot work.

Dalton believes the government should make a compassionate move and award Assoun some immediate compensation while all parties determine the next step forward.

Assoun’s lawyer Sean MacDonald said they are putting together the pieces and looking forward but it’s too early to say if they’ll seek immediate compensation.

“Glen (Assoun) is trying his best to heal and move on with whatever he has left of his life,” MacDonald said in a phone interview.

“Even though he struggles to get the things we all take for granted and is living off of the kindness of others right now to do things as simple as put food on his plate, he remains positive — a trait he had to develop to survive being locked in a concrete room for almost 20 years.”

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey has appealed to the conflict of interest commissioner and said in the meantime he cannot comment on the Assoun case, as Furey was an RCMP officer for more than 30 years before entering politics.

READ MORE: Evidence erased by police would have freed wrongfully convicted man, defence lawyer says

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Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale’s office said in a statement on the case that “Canadians must have confidence that our criminal justice system is fair and impartial and protects against potential miscarriages of justice.”

“In this particular case, the Minister of Justice reviewed the case and was satisfied a new trial was necessary to ensure a fair process,” the statement read. “The case against Mr. Assoun was dismissed, and we respect the decision of the Court.”

This is the 24th exoneration the Innocence Canada has helped initiate and Dalton says there has been compensation in fewer than half of those cases.