Nova Scotia’s conflict of interest commissioner has cleared the province’s justice minister of any real conflict of interest in the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun.
Mark Furey — a former RCMP officer — had refused to comment on revelations that the Mounties had erased evidence that could have exonerated Assoun until the commissioner issued his ruling.
Assoun was declared innocent of murder on March 1 in the 1995 killing of Brenda Way. He’d served 17 years in federal penitentiaries and lived under restrictive bail conditions for four years.
A federal Justice Department report revealed the RCMP chose not to disclose an investigator’s theories of other suspects — including multiple murderer Michael McGray – in the murder.
The department’s preliminary assessment, which led to Assoun’s release in 2014, said the evidence was erased or thrown away in the lead-up to Assoun’s unsuccessful appeal in 2006.
Joseph Kennedy, the commissioner, wrote in a letter obtained by Global News that based on the information provided to him he did not see a conflict of interest.
“Simply having been a member of the RCMP at relevant times does not create a real conflict,” wrote Kennedy in his letter.
A spokesperson for the department of justice said Furey was unavailable for comment on the decision as he is out of the office on Tuesday and has “a full day of meetings” on Wednesday but that he will be made available after a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
The spokesperson offered the following statement from Furey:
“The Conflict of Interest Commissioner has advised that he does not believe I am in conflict in managing this matter,” Furey said.
“As Minister of Justice, I will continue to remain impartial and to act with the utmost integrity. I thank the commissioner for his time and opinion. I will now review this matter in detail and consider next steps in consultation with my federal colleagues.”
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Despite his ruling, the commissioner emphasized that he does not have the ability to control the perception of a potential conflict of interest.
“Perception, in government, if often as important as reality,” wrote Kennedy.
He added that the Furey will likely have choices to make regarding the Assoun decision — some of which will involve the RCMP — and it may be hard for the public to believe the minister is being impartial.
Kennedy says that Furey will have to strive to be transparent about his role and any concerns he has about the topic. If something does come up the commissioner says it will need to be dealt with immediately.
With a file from The Canadian Press