B.C. police watchdog to investigate Glen Assoun's wrongful conviction, appeal

Glen Assoun at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on March 1, 2019.  (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Glen Assoun at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on March 1, 2019. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

British Columbia's police watchdog will move forward with an investigation into the wrongful murder conviction and appeal of a Nova Scotia man who spent nearly 17 years in prison.

An order-in-council was issued earlier this month, authorizing the probe by the civilian-led Independent Investigations Office, which will examine details surrounding Glen Assoun's case.

Assoun was convicted in 1995 of killing his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Way, but he always maintained his innocence.

He was imprisoned for nearly 17 years and spent five more years under strict parole conditions before federal Justice Minister David Lametti ordered a new trial, saying the original conviction was likely a miscarriage of justice.

Provincial Crown prosecutors opted not to retry Assoun and he was finally exonerated in 2019. Way's killing has never been solved.

SIRT referred matter to B.C. agency

The matter was first referred to the Independent Investigations Office, B.C.'s police oversight agency, by Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team, which had been asked by the provincial justice minister at the time to look into the matter.

SIRT director Felix Cacchione called in his B.C. counterpart "in the interests of transparency," he said at the time.

The the inquiry will look at whether RCMP inappropriately destroyed evidence in 1999 when Assoun was preparing his appeal of his murder conviction.

"This is, as far as anyone can tell, the first time that an independent body such as the IIO has been tasked with the investigation, the criminal investigation of the circumstances behind a wrongful conviction," IIO head Ron MacDonald said Thursday from B.C.

"And this marks, I think, an important step in our justice system in Canada in these types of situations."

Research by an RCMP analyst at the time had identified other suspects in Way's murder, but that information was never shared with Assoun's lawyer. That analyst was retired RCMP Const. Dave Moore.

"I doubt very much this investigative team will have the jurisdiction to investigate widespread corruption inside the RCMP all the way to Ottawa and [Halifax Regional Police]," Moore said Thursday in a text message from his Florida home.

The investigation will also examine whether any member of HRP committed any offence relating to Assoun's original conviction.

Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia and federal governments announced a compensation deal had been reached with Assoun. Terms of that deal have not been released.