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

Sooke’s Old-Fashioned Country Picnic set for Saturday

The free event combines music, kids activities, food and fun

Cycslists were all smiles during ninth Tour de Victoria

More than 2,100 cyclists participated

‘I’m just absolutely disgusted’: Husband furious after Const. Beckett’s killer gets day parole

Kenneth Fenton was sentenced to prison after he fatally struck Const. Sarah Beckett’s cruiser

Police investigating incident in Saanich neighbourhood

Neighbours tell Black Press Media that a body has been found, but police remain tight-lipped.

Colwood man takes on Ride to Conquer Cancer for 11th year in a row

Team Finn has raised almost $3 million for BC Cancer Foundation

VIDEO: Langley Ribfest met with protesters

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Sooke’s Old-Fashioned Country Picnic set for Saturday

The free event combines music, kids activities, food and fun

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission

It’s snow joke: Up to 30 cm of snow expected to fall in northeastern B.C.

Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson to be hit with August snowstorm, according to Environment Canada

Sea-to-Sky Gondola in B.C. likely out of commission until 2020

Sea to Sky Gondola carries between 1,500 and 3,000 people every day during the summer season

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

PHOTOS: Weapons seized at Portland right-wing rally, counterprotests

Not all who gathered Saturday were with right-wing groups or antifa

Ferries employees participating in Denman Island cleanup for plastic-shedding ferry

The cleanup comes a few weeks after one organized by residents of the Island

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Most Read