Nova Scotia

N.S. justice minister calls Assoun case 'miscarriage of justice'

Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister said Thursday that what happened to Glen Assoun was "a miscarriage of justice." But Mark Furey maintains he cannot comment further on the case until he is fully briefed by his staff.

Mark Furey has not been fully briefed on Glen Assoun's wrongful conviction for murder

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says an apology to Glen Assoun would be premature right now. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's justice minister said Thursday that what happened to Glen Assoun was "a miscarriage of justice." But Mark Furey maintains he cannot comment further on the case until he is fully briefed by his staff.

Assoun spent nearly 17 years in prison for the murder of his former girlfriend, Brenda Way. He was exonerated earlier this year.

Files released by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court earlier this month revealed problems with the initial police investigation and the police analysis done months before Assoun tried unsuccessfully to appeal his murder conviction. An RCMP analyst identified serial killer Michael McGray as a more likely suspect in Way's murder, but that information was never given to Assoun or his lawyer.

Furey was a senior Mountie during the time the RCMP analyst was pointing the finger at McGray and other potential suspects. That analyst, Dave Moore, was transferred and his files were destroyed.

Last week, Furey asked the province's conflict of interest commissioner to determine whether he could comment on the Assoun case in light of his former career. The commissioner cleared Furey in a decision released on Tuesday.

Opposition reaction

"I wish he would have taken the steps to clear himself of potential conflicts a long time ago," Opposition Leader Tim Houston said Thursday.

"I'm not sure why he waited until now, so it's a little hollow from where I sit to hear him saying he's going to start to look at the files now."

Furey said he's had one briefing so far and expects many more in the coming days. But he wouldn't be pinned down on when he might be in a position to say more. He said he also wants to consult with his federal counterparts in the Justice and Public Safety departments before he speaks.

Glen Assoun speaks to reporters on July 12, 2019, after a judge released documents about his wrongful murder conviction. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Furey is ruling out talking to Assoun at this time.

"An apology would be premature at this time until I have an opportunity to review the full scope of the file and all of the circumstances and the complexity of the file," he said.

The Assoun case is leaving NDP Leader Gary Burrill with a sense of déjà vu.

"Here we are in Nova Scotia, a full 30 years after the Marshall Inquiry and we find ourselves facing a case of this proportion of wrongful conviction," Burrill said.

Donald Marshall Jr. speaks to reporters at a 1983 news conference. (Albert Lee/Canadian Press)

"So, we need to understand how in the world this could possibly have happened. Certainly, an inquiry is needed in order to do that."

Burrill was referring to the late Mi'kmaw activist Donald Marshall Jr., who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Marshall's case resulted in a royal commission that revealed serious problems with the Nova Scotia justice system.

'No amount of money ... can ever adequately compensate Mr. Assoun'

Marshall received an apology and compensation.

"I think everyone should understand that there's no amount of money that can ever adequately compensate Mr. Assoun for what has been done to him," Burrill said.

For his part, Houston stopped short of calling for a public inquiry. He is suggesting outside investigators be brought in to look at the Assoun case.