February 26th, 2024

Glen Assoun’s daughter says probe of his wrongful conviction must become a priority

By Michael Tutton and Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press on December 15, 2023.

Glen Assoun is embraced by his daughter Amanda Huckle at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on March 1, 2019. The daughter of a Nova Scotia man wrongfully convicted of murder says even in death, Glen Assoun is being denied justice and she is calling for governments to ensure a probe of his case becomes a "priority." THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX – The daughter of a wrongfully convicted Nova Scotia man says that even in death her father is being denied justice – and she is demanding a stalled criminal investigation of his case become “a priority.”

Amanda Huckle says that she and her family were deeply frustrated when they learned last month that a police oversight body had stopped its three-year probe to determine whether RCMP officers broke the law when they destroyed evidence in the case that led to the conviction of her father, Glen Assoun, for murder.

Assoun died in June at the age of 67.

“I feel that Dad has once again been railroaded, like he has every step of the way,” Huckle said in a recent interview. “He deserves justice, and he never was able to truly experience that before he left this world …. It (the criminal investigation) needs to be a priority, instead of sidelined all the time.”

In March 2019, a Nova Scotia court acquitted Assoun in the 1995 killing of his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Lee Anne Way. After spending almost 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Assoun later received a compensation settlement from the federal and provincial governments.

In September 2020, Nova Scotia’s justice minister asked the province’s police oversight body, the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), to investigate whether police had engaged in criminal misconduct. And in March 2021, SIRT announced that to ensure transparency, its counterpart in British Columbia had agreed to take on the investigation. The probe was also to look into the role of the Halifax police.

But on Nov. 30 of this year, SIRT announced that the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia had dropped the case because its workload had become too heavy.

Huckle, the youngest of Assoun’s three children, said the decision left her feeling “frustrated, angry and emotional.” She said she wants political leaders to ensure there’s enough money and staff to get the job done.

“I would think funding one of these (police oversight) organizations should be a priority, so that (my father’s case) isn’t sidelined again,” she said.

Erin Nauss, interim director of Nova Scotia’s SIRT, said in a recent interview she understands there is frustration over the halted investigation.

Nauss said she has reached out to every other police oversight body in Canada to determine if any of them could resume the work started by the B.C. agency. “I think that agencies like the SIRT, and others across the country, are very busy and have significant workloads. I can’t comment on other jurisdictions, but that will be a challenge,” she said.

Ronald MacDonald, the B.C. agency’s civilian director, said his investigators had to stop working on the Assoun file because they were overwhelmed by a rapidly increasing workload and a lack of resources.

He said that between 2017 and 2019, the agency’s caseload was, on average, about 120 investigations per year. Since then, the average has jumped to more than 200 cases a year.

More importantly, the B.C. organization found itself stretched to the limit when it had to investigate 26 shootings involving police officers in 2022-23. On average, the agency would typically deal with about seven police shootings per year.

MacDonald said the decision to drop the Assoun case was not taken lightly. “We just didn’t want to admit that we had to stop doing it,” he said, confirming the decision was made in April. “We probably should have made that decision earlier.”

In September 1999, a jury found Assoun guilty of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. He had represented himself at his trial after firing his lawyer three days into the court proceedings. His bid to appeal the conviction was rejected in 2006.

In 2014, Assoun was released from prison on strict conditions after the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted persuaded the federal Justice Department to conduct a preliminary assessment of his case. The assessment found the RCMP had chosen not to disclose an investigator’s theories about other suspects in the murder case, and that the Mounties had destroyed most of this potential evidence.

The RCMP later issued a statement saying the files were deleted for “quality control purposes,” but the actions were “contrary to policy and shouldn’t have happened.”

After his conviction was overturned, Assoun told The Canadian Press he hoped a public inquiry would eventually determine what led to his wrongful conviction.

Earlier this month, Ronald Dalton, co-president of Innocence Canada – formerly known as the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted – said the federal government should order a public inquiry.

But the federal government says it won’t get involved.

A spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Arif Virani said Wednesday the “core issues” in the case fall under provincial jurisdiction. “We encourage them to take proactive measures in advancing the inquiry into this matter,” Chantalle Aubertin said in an email.

Huckle said a public inquiry could make recommendations to prevent similar miscarriages of justice. But unlike police watchdog agencies, a public inquiry could not build a case alleging criminal wrongdoing.

“I know my dad will never feel justice, even in the afterlife, if somebody isn’t held accountable,” she said. Huckle said the federal and Nova Scotia governments must get involved to ensure a full investigation.

“We sit here without Dad, and we still live it,” she said. “We’re still here, and the family needs justice just as much as Dad.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2023.

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