Nova Scotia

Provincial and federal governments working on compensation for Glen Assoun

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says no decision has been made yet on an inquiry or apology for Glen Assoun, but talks about compensation for the wrongfully convicted man are underway.

Nova Scotia man spent 17 years in prison for murder he didn't commit

Glen Assoun spent 17 years in prison and another five on strict conditions after he was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's justice minister says officials in his department and at the federal level are working on "early" compensation for Glen Assoun.

Assoun spent 17 years in prison and another five years on strict conditions after being wrongfully convicted of the 1995 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Way. He was exonerated in March.

Last month, documents unsealed by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge showed the RCMP erased evidence that could have freed Assoun earlier. He and his lawyers have called for an inquiry into the matter.

In an interview Tuesday, Justice Minister Mark Furey said no decision has been made yet about an inquiry or an apology to Assoun. He said he's talked with federal Justice Minister David Lametti and their focus right now is early compensation.

"That's the discussion I've had with the federal minister, that's the direction that both the federal department and provincial department are focused on," Furey said.

Assoun is suffering from physical and mental-health problems as a result of his time in prison. His lawyers have said he has no money and have called on the government to fast track some kind of payment to Assoun so he can gain a level of independence in his life.

Justice Minister Mark Furey says he and his federal counterpart have discussed compensation for Assoun. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Furey said the discussions around the compensation are broad, and while he said it would be inappropriate to get into the details of the talks, the minister said "both the federal and provincial departments are very conscious" of Assoun's circumstances. The minister said the effort is a collective one with Assoun's lawyers.

He could not say when talks might be complete.

"Timing is always a challenge, but this is a priority within the Department of Justice and we have significant resources working toward this as we speak."

'Hard to imagine a more compelling case'

Philip Campbell, one of the lawyers that represented Assoun on behalf of Innocence Canada, said it is gratifying to hear the issue has the attention of the top levels of government.

"It's hard to imagine a more compelling case for compensation, both in terms of what was done to [Assoun] and in terms of his support and redress," Campbell said in a telephone interview.

Furey said the file is complex, and although it was reviewed by his department's in-house legal services several months ago, the minister said he didn't start reviewing it until after he was cleared to do so by the province's conflict of interest commissioner in late July.

"Only after that point was I briefed," he said.

"I take this matter very seriously and want to ensure that the work we are doing is focused on those priority elements and that we're working in a collegial and co-operative manner."

Glen Assoun was represented by lawyers from the Association in the Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, now called Innocence Canada. From left to right are Sean MacDonald, James Lockyer and Philip Campbell. (CBC)

Campbell said he can't imagine why senior officals in government and law enforcement would not want to have an inquiry.

"The magnitude of what was done here and the senior levels at which the wrongs were either done or ignored should mean that entirely apart from public accountability, the minister provincially, the federal minister, the RCMP commissioner, the chief of Halifax Regional Police — all of them should simply want to know from the standpoint of good management what happened and how this catastrophic non-disclosure and the coverup of it came to be."

He feels as strongly about why an apology for Assoun is appropriate and should happen.

"It seems to us that simply as a matter of ordinary decency, Glen Assoun is a man you'd want to look in the eye and say sorry to. And the history of wrongful convictions in Canada shows that makes a huge difference.

"It matters enormously to the wrongly convicted accused, it also matters to the public. It is part of the public recognizing that justice is being serviced and lessons are being learned, and it's pretty easy, too."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca