The RCMP chose not to disclose and later deleted electronic evidence that could have helped exonerate a Halifax man who was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and spent 17 years in prison, according to federal documents released in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Friday.
Glen Assoun spent more than two decades trying to overturn his conviction for the 1995 stabbing death of 28-year-old Brenda Way. Earlier this year, a judge dismissed the charge.
Outside the Halifax courtroom, 63-year-old Mr. Assoun said he’s relieved the country will finally know the real story of his wrongful conviction.
“It’s emotional, but I’m holding it in. I don’t know what to say. I’m ashamed of them and I’d like to see accountability,” said Mr. Assoun, adding that he also wants justice for Ms. Way and her family.
The August, 2014, report authored by Mark Green of the Department of Justice Canada raised new information in the case and disclosure issues, concluding that “there may be reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”
He cited an analysis done in 2003 by then-RCMP constable Dave Moore using a police database system known as ViCLAS, which led the analyst to believe Michael McGray – who has been convicted of seven murders – was a suspect. Mr. Moore also identified two other possible suspects. According to Mr. Green’s report, Mr. Moore passed on the information to his bosses, RCMP major-crime inspector Andy Lathem and later to then head of the ViCLAS unit, Leo O’Brien. Inspector O’Brien responded that he was not in a position to do anything, the report said.
In March, 2004, Mr. Moore discovered he had been demoted and hundreds of pages of documents he kept in bankers’ boxes were gone. His electronic files were missing. In a letter to his superiors, he wrote, “There was no consideration given to the information or fact that there was a possibility an innocent man was in prison and had been wrongfully convicted.”
According to the report, Mr. Moore’s superiors at ViCLAS, Ken Bradley and Dick Hutchings, told him he was wasting his time and directed him to stop working on Ms. Way’s murder.
In 2005, Mr. Assoun’s appeal lawyer asked for any files relating to ViCLAS be disclosed to him as well as information about other suspects, including Mr. McGray. None were.
Earlier this year, federal Justice Minister David Lametti declared there was a reasonable basis to believe a miscarriage of justice had occurred.
The RCMP launched an internal investigation into the disappearance of the files in 2014. On Friday, the RCMP said the files were deleted “for quality-control purposes.”
“None of that should ever have happened. It’s against policy,” RCMP Inspector Lynn Young said. “There was no intention of a cover-up in any way.”
Insp. Young said the ViCLAS program has put in a new system that makes it impossible for this to happen again.
In his report, Mr. Green says that there is no evidence proving that the deletion of Mr. Moore’s work had anything to do with the Assoun matter.
But Innocence Canada, a non-profit group that seeks justice for the wrongly convicted, says that if the appeal court had known of the profiling of Mr. McGray, Mr. Assoun’s conviction and life sentence would not have been upheld and he would not have remained in custody for an additional eight years.
“Someone made decisions in Glen’s case that have left a murderer to walk free for 21 years and God knows what harm that person has done in 21 years,” said Ron Dalton, co-president of Innocence Canada.
Mr. Assoun’s lawyers, Phil Campbell and Sean MacDonald, say with the release of the hundreds of pages of documents, the public is finally learning the full reasons behind “a tragic loss to the administration of justice.”
In an e-mail on Friday, the now-retired Mr. Moore said the actions of his superiors should be further examined.
“Those individuals in a position of power to do something failed miserably and should be ashamed of themselves and held accountable.”
The report released Friday was a key to Mr. Assoun’s release on bail almost five years ago. On March 1 of this year, Justice James Chipman dismissed the charge against Mr. Assoun after the Nova Scotia Crown dropped its case.
Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter, saying it is still reviewing the information.
Halifax Regional Police, who were in charge of the investigation, released a statement saying they support Justice Chipman’s decision to lift the sealing order and will provide no further comment.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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