Nova Scotia

N.S. police watchdog to probe RCMP actions in wrongful conviction case

Nova Scotia’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team, has agreed to investigate one of the key aspects of the wrongful murder conviction of Glen Assoun. He spent nearly 17 years in prison for the murder of his former girlfriend, Brenda Way.

Serious Incident Response Team says nature of Glen Assoun's case and public interest warrant an investigation

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

Nova Scotia's police watchdog has agreed to investigate one of the key aspects of the wrongful murder conviction of Glen Assoun, who spent nearly 17 years in prison for the 1995 death of his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Way.

Provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey and Premier Stephen McNeil previously asked the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) to look into the RCMP's actions in the case. 

But SIRT director Felix Cacchione initially said he was reluctant to get involved because the Assoun matter predated the creation of the civilian-led, police oversight team.

On Thursday, Cacchione said he's changed his mind.

"Given that the matter was referred by the minister, given the nature of the case itself, the fact that a wrongful conviction occurred or may have occurred, and the public interest in this case to ensure that it's completely and transparently investigated, we moved from our initial position that we don't normally take cases that have occurred prior to the inception of SIRT," he said.

RCMP documents destroyed

A special investigation by the federal Justice Department's Criminal Conviction Review Group that was made public last year concluded Assoun was the likely victim of a miscarriage of justice.

The review group found internal RCMP research suggesting other suspects in Way's killing, including a convicted serial killer, was destroyed and never handed to Assoun's lawyers. That happened in the early 2000s when Assoun was preparing to appeal his conviction. He lost that appeal.

There have been calls for a full public inquiry into the case, including from Assoun himself, who was released on bail in 2014 and exonerated in 2019. So far, the government has not committed to anything. Furey has said his priority has been negotiating compensation for Assoun, a process that is ongoing.

Felix Cacchione is director of the Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates actions of police that may have led to serious injury or death, or where those actions may raise a significant public interest. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The Serious Incident Response Team has investigators who've been seconded from police forces, including the RCMP and Halifax Regional Police. But for this investigation, Cacchione has enlisted the help of the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.

"It would be important to have a completely independent outside agency," said Cacchione. "And by independent, I mean in the public perception."

The Criminal Conviction Review Group's investigation revealed the RCMP deleted files that linked other suspects to Way's death.

The RCMP's evidence had come from the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System, a computerized system that looks for patterns in crimes and can help narrow down a list of suspects. 

Dave Moore, a former RCMP constable, used the analysis system and came up with two other suspects: notorious serial killer Michael Wayne McGray and another man named Avery Greenough, who had a history of committing vicious sexual assaults.

But Moore was unable to persuade his superiors to act on his findings. He went on vacation and when he returned, all of his files had been deleted and he had been transferred out of the unit that uses the analysis system.

RCMP denies coverup

The RCMP's actions were not disclosed until CBC News, The Canadian Press and the Halifax Examiner successfully argued for the release of the information that led to Assoun's acquittal.

At the same time, the RCMP issued a statement saying they investigated the matter in 2014 and confirmed the files had been deleted in 2004.

RCMP Insp. Lynn Young said last year the files were erased against policy, but maintained it was not done with malicious intent.

"If anything has been done, it has not been intentional, or it was a mistake," Young told a news conference in Halifax in July 2019.

"But there has been no intention for the RCMP in any way to try and do a coverup."

Moore, who is now retired from the RCMP, disagrees and has accused the force of a coverup. 

He told CBC News on Thursday that he is not satisfied with an investigation by the Serious Incident Response Team and will not participate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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