Glen Assoun is embraced by family members at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on March 1, 2019. Glen Assoun’s lawyer says the wrongfully convicted Halifax man suffered “every single day” as he waited to be exonerated for a murder he didn’t commit — a wait that was prolonged for months as his case sat on former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s desk. David Lametti issued an order for a new trial on Feb. 28, just seven weeks after taking over as justice minister. The following day — after a five-minute new trial in which the prosecution presented no evidence — Assoun was a free man. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Wrongfully convicted man’s case sat on Wilson-Raybould’s desk for months

Glen Assoun spent almost 17 years in prison after being convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend

Glen Assoun’s lawyer says the wrongfully convicted Halifax man suffered “every single day” as he waited to be exonerated for a murder he didn’t commit — a wait that was prolonged for months as his case sat on former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s desk.

David Lametti issued an order for a new trial on Feb. 28, just seven weeks after taking over as justice minister. The following day — after a five-minute new trial in which the prosecution presented no evidence — Assoun was a free man.

He had spent almost 17 years in prison and another four and a half years under strict parole conditions after being convicted of the brutal 1998 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Way.

Sean MacDonald — one of the lawyers for Innocence Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted and which spent years trying to prove Assoun’s innocence — declined to specifically discuss Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the case.

But he said in an interview: “I can tell you this much, that Glen Assoun is 100 per cent factually innocent and he suffered every single day while he waited for his exoneration. I can say that Minister Lametti worked with dispatch to make sure that justice was done.”

The Halifax Examiner first reported earlier this month that Wilson-Raybould sat for 18 months on the findings of the Justice Department’s criminal conviction review group, which recommended that a new trial be ordered for Assoun. Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the Assoun case, which may yet be the subject of a public inquiry, have confirmed that report to The Canadian Press.

During Assoun’s brief new trial on March 1, prosecutor Mark Scott referred to the “considerable period of time since the minister’s decision has been pending.”

Wilson-Raybould herself did not confirm or deny a lengthy delay in dealing with Assoun’s case, but suggested it was just one of many potential wrongful conviction cases that landed on her desk.

“It would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment on specific cases or applications made under the criminal conviction review process. … These applications are necessarily confidential in nature,” she said in an email this week to The Canadian Press.

“As minister, I took potential wrongful conviction matters incredibly seriously. In order to deal with all such applications more thoroughly, effectively, and impartially, I appointed the Honourable Mr. Justice Morris Fish (a former Supreme Court justice) as special adviser on wrongful convictions in early December 2018. His role was designed to advise me — as minister — on applications under the criminal conviction review process, of which there were many.”

However, before anything could come of that appointment for Assoun, Wilson-Raybould was moved to Veterans Affairs in a mid-January cabinet shuffle, replaced by Lametti, a former law professor. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet a month later amid allegations she was improperly pressured last fall by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene to stop a criminal prosecution of Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin on bribery charges related to contracts in Libya.

Among the examples of what she considered inappropriate pressure, Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee last month that she was urged to solicit a second opinion — from someone like a retired Supreme Court justice — on whether SNC-Lavalin should be invited to negotiate a remediation agreement, a kind of plea bargain. She rejected the idea as interference with prosecutorial discretion.

MacDonald said it’s not unusual for a justice minister to seek outside advice on cases in which a miscarriage of justice is alleged. Still, he said the criminal conviction review group at Justice is a “highly professional, specialized group” that spent five years meticulously investigating the Assoun case.

Lametti acted swiftly on the group’s advice, saying in his order for a new trial that he had determined “upon investigation that there are new matters of significance, as well as relevant and reliable information, that was not disclosed to Mr. Glen Assoun during his criminal proceedings.” As a result of that investigation, Lametti said he is “satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.”

“It’s extraordinarily rare for a minister to make a positive, factual finding of misconduct in his or her order,” said MacDonald. “And I think that speaks to the level of egregiousness that this wrongful conviction has sort of achieved.”

Lametti’s spokesperson, David Taylor, said the minister reviewed the Assoun file “shortly after being sworn-in” as justice minister.

“The compelling facts of the case, as well as the health of Mr. Assoun, underscored the need for prompt consideration by the minister,” Taylor said.

MacDonald questioned Wilson-Raybould’s suggestion that she had many potential wrongful conviction cases to deal with.

“I wouldn’t think that there would be a great deal of applications being processed or reviewed by the criminal conviction review group,” he said.

The group screens out the “vast majority” of applications that are deemed to have little merit. It fully investigates only those that appear to be likely or possible miscarriages of justice — “an ultra rare and exclusive club that very few Canadians, fortunately, have found themselves members in. It’s like a rare, albino rhinoceros,” he added.

Whatever the reason for the delay in getting the ministerial order for a new trial, MacDonald said Assoun’s suffering was “a horrible thing to watch, in slow motion day by day.”

READ MORE: Five things we learned from Wilson-Raybould at the justice committee hearing

READ MORE: SNC-Lavalin’s court loss shifts spotlight to Trudeau’s new attorney general

Assoun was out of prison by then but under “unbelievably tight conditions.” He was required to live with his daughter, respect curfews and reporting requirements and, for a long period, had to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. And all the while, MacDonald said, Assoun “walked around with stigma” of being a convicted murderer.

Since his exoneration four weeks ago, MacDonald said Assoun is ”better but he’s still suffering from debilitating anxiety and post-traumatic stress.”

“He’ll be damaged for the rest of his life, in my opinion.”

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Castlegar mural defaced with swastika

RCMP do not suspect that the graffiti was the act of a hate group.

How local candidates are using Facebook to advertise directly to you

Liberal campaign is the biggest spender on Facebook ads in South Okanangan–West Kootenay

Kootenay-Columbia candidates attend Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum

About 120 people attended the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum on Oct. 16 at the Prince Charles Theatre.

Green and NDP candidates talk strategic voting at Nelson public meeting

Wayne Stetski and Abra Brynne traded ideas but made no concessions for this election

Inquest planned in death of Peter de Groot

It’s been five years since the Slocan man was shot by RCMP

ELECTION 2019: It’s so close, it could come down to who turns out to vote

Black Press Media’s polling analyst on the origins of predictive seat modelling in Canada

Judge orders credit union’s bank records for Kelowna social worker facing theft allegations

The man is accused of negligence, breach of contract, fraud and a conspiracy with Interior Savings

Leaders pour it on with rallies, boosts for candidates as campaign reaches peak

The federal election campaign has reached a crescendo

Allegations of racism lead to ministry investigation at Vancouver private school

St. George’s School was contacted over school describes as ‘deeply offensive behaviour online’

Not a political question: Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta

Edmonton police estimated the size of the crowd at about 4,000

Zantac, the over-the-counter heartburn drug, pulled in Canada, U.S.

Health Canada also investigates possible carcinogen in some ranitidine drugs

B.C. public safety minister says cannabis edibles not in stores til January

Mike Farnworth says he wants regional issues considered when it comes to licensing

Greta Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta, but doesn’t talk oilsands

Swedish teen was met with some oil and gas industry supporters who came in a truck convoy

Scheer denies spreading ‘misinformation’ in predicting unannounced Liberal taxes

Conservative leader had claimed that a potential NDP-Liberal coalition could lead to a hike in GST

Most Read