New podcast examines 'stunning institutional failure' of 1995 murder case, host says

Investigative reporter Tim Bousquet has been steeped in the case of Glen Assoun for years. He talks to CBC Podcasts about the importance of this story, and of seeking accountability within Canada's most powerful institutions. 

Season 7 of the award-winning Uncover podcast tackles the wrongful conviction case of Glen Assoun

Halifax investigative journalist and now podcast host Tim Bousquet has been reporting on the Glen Assoun story since 2014. (Submitted by Tim Bousquet)

How can one murder investigation go so horribly wrong?

This is the question host and reporter Tim Bousquet sought to answer in the newest season of Uncover: Dead Wrong.

The podcast's seventh season will explore the 1995 murder of Halifax mother Brenda Way, and the resulting wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun. Uncover: Dead Wrong advances the conversation around seeking accountability within Canada's most powerful institutions. 

Bousquet, who's been reporting on the story since 2014, spoke with CBC Podcasts about the making of Season 7. Here is part of that conversation.

Can you provide some background information about the case? 

In 1999, Glen was convicted for the 1995 murder of his former girlfriend, Brenda Way, and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 and a half years. Glen always maintained his innocence, but lost on appeal in 2005. It wasn't until 2014 that Glen was released on an extraordinary court-ordered parole, with strict conditions. Finally, on March 1, 2019, he was fully exonerated for the crime and became a free man.

Glen Eugene Assoun holds his daughter Tanya's hand at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on Nov. 24, 2014. Assoun, who was serving a life sentence for stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death, was granted bail after a preliminary review of his case said he may have been wrongfully convicted. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Glen is a complex character. What is the value in sharing the story of someone who doesn't fit the typical role of a sympathetic victim?

To be honest, I went into this story with a not-great opinion of Glen, but as I researched it, I began to see Glen (and the community he came from) as simply abandoned and ignored by the larger society. And partly because that community has been abandoned, drug use, the sex trade, and violence are endemic. That's not to excuse any one person's bad behaviour, but I started to have a nuanced understanding of Glen's life. My feelings toward him became more complex. 

You've been reporting on the story for over 5 years. What is it about the case that stuck with you over the years?

At every turn in this investigation I came across something entirely unexpected. I repeatedly found myself thinking, "this can't be true," and yet with further investigation not only was it true, but it was even more surprising than I had originally thought. This is the story of complex, larger-than-life characters, caught up in a tragic story of a stunning institutional failure.

Dead Wrong is the story of a wrongful conviction, but it's also so much more. Can you explain some of the other themes unpacked in the podcast?

Well, so many. The podcast details what life is like for sex workers on the street, their interactions with johns and police, and the violence they encounter. We also look at the failures of police, and how an investigation can go so astray. Then there are officials in high places who seem indifferent to, or even hostile to, justice for the wrongfully convicted. And, in one instance at least, we dive into the acts and thoughts of a truly monstrous person. But along the way, if we've been successful, we are showing the humanity of the characters at every step of the story.

Brenda Way was found stabbed to death in a Dartmouth apartment in 1995. Her murderer still has not been identified.

How did you ensure that Brenda Way's legacy didn't get lost in the drama of the story?

Brenda was top of mind throughout. At the time of her murder, she was discounted as "just a prostitute," but she shouldn't be defined by being a sex worker, she was so much more than that: a woman with a large personality, who always had a smile for her friends and who cared about her loved ones deeply. Brenda was the victim of a horrible crime, and must have suffered greatly. I never knew Brenda when she was alive — but I think we do right by her by telling the truth about her death, the circumstances of it, what led up to it, and the terrible event itself. 

The underlying story is about our society's indifference to those on the margins.- Tim Bousquet

What is your hope in bringing this story to the world?

I hope to draw attention to the underclass — the poor, the under-educated, those addicted to drugs and alcohol, who have limited opportunities to leave their station in life.  At its heart, I think, this story is about the interplay between that very marginalized part of our community on the one hand and the political, police, and justice systems on the other. The drama in this story is Brenda's murder and Glen's wrongful conviction, but the underlying story is about our society's indifference to those on the margins.

Listen to Uncover: Dead Wrong

Hear the full series for free at cbc.ca/uncover or on your favourite podcast app—including Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts and Spotify. And if you're new to podcasts, start here.

Q&A edited for length and clarity. Produced by Émilie Quesnel.