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B.C. police watchdog backs out of investigation into Glen Assoun case in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX — There's been another delay in the investigation to determine whether police in Nova Scotia broke the law when evidence was destroyed in the case of Glen Assoun, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1999 and served almost 17 years in prison.

More than three years ago, in September 2020, Nova Scotia's justice minister asked the province's police watchdog to investigate. But the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) said it made more sense for another oversight agency to do the job to ensure transparency.

In March 2021, the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia agreed to investigate, but on Thursday the Nova Scotia agency announced its B.C. counterpart had backed out of its commitment in April because of a heavy workload.

Erin Nauss, SIRT's interim director, issued a statement saying her team has been looking for another oversight body to finish the work, saying SIRT is "committed to transparency and accountability."

Assoun, who died in June, was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in September 1999 for the stabbing death of Brenda Lee Anne Way.

The court heard Way's body was found behind an apartment building in Dartmouth, N.S., on Nov. 12, 1995. The 28-year-old woman had been stabbed six times and her throat was slashed. Assoun, who was living in British Columbia when he was arrested two years later, had always maintained his innocence.

He represented himself at his trial after firing his lawyer three days into the court proceedings.

In 2010, two lawyers persuaded the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted to get involved in the case. Four years later, the federal Justice Department said a preliminary assessment determined there could have been a miscarriage of justice, and an in-depth investigation was ordered before Assoun was released from prison on strict conditions in November 2014.

In July of that year, the court released the preliminary assessment, which found the RCMP had chosen not to disclose an investigator's theories about other suspects in the murder case. As well, the document showed the Mounties destroyed most of this potential evidence.

The document also said the federal Justice Department found that Assoun's lawyer in his unsuccessful 2006 appeal — Jerome Kennedy — had specifically asked the Crown to disclose this type of information, but he never received it.

After the preliminary assessment was released, the RCMP issued a statement saying the files were deleted for "quality control purposes," but the actions were "contrary to policy and shouldn't have happened."

In March 2019, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision overturned Assoun's conviction. Assoun agreed to an undisclosed compensation deal with the Nova Scotia and federal governments in March 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press