Inquiry into Glen Assoun wrongful conviction should be led by Nova Scotia: Lametti
HALIFAX -- The federal justice minister says he feels sorry for a man wrongfully convicted of murder, but he's leaving the decision about an inquiry into the role of the police and Crown to the Nova Scotia government.
David Lametti said Friday he believes his Liberal provincial counterpart -- a former RCMP officer turned politician -- should make the call on a probe, even as questions remain about the role of the Mounties in the matter.
Glen Assoun was convicted in 1999 of the knifing murder of Brenda Way four years earlier. The 63-year-old man spent almost 17 years in prison and over four years on bail before being exonerated earlier this year.
Assoun says he's suffered multiple heart attacks, mental illness and now lives in abject poverty due to the miscarriage of justice.
Lametti told reporters he realizes there has been suffering in the case, and he noted he acted quickly this year after reviewing the file to confirm there was a reasonable likelihood a miscarriage of justice had occurred.
"I feel a great deal of sympathy of Glen Assoun ... and also for the victim in a crime that stands unresolved," he told reporters on Friday.
"All of the necessary powers to have a public inquiry exist at the provincial level, and in my view that's where it ought to be had," he added. "We will co-operate as the federal government in any inquiry the province decides ought to be had."
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey has already said he will review the matter and "consider next steps in consultation with my federal colleagues."
Furey has said he's starting reading the file now that the conflict of interest commissioner in the province has cleared him to make decisions on the matter, despite his 32 years as an RCMP officer before entering politics.
"I have a responsibility to be impartial and objective," he told reporters, adding he wouldn't hesitate to act if people he knew had acted improperly.
Assoun's lawyers, along with the federal NDP and Green party leaders, have called on Ottawa to order an independent review of the case to determine how the wrongful conviction occurred.
They have said an independent probe is needed to determine why the RCMP destroyed potential evidence prepared by an analyst in an RCMP unit looking at the behaviour of serial offenders.
A federal Justice Department report made public on July 12 revealed that the RCMP erased and disposed of Const. Dave Moore's theories of other suspects -- including multiple murderer Michael McGray -- in the Brenda Way case.
Moore built his case using conventional investigative techniques, along with the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System, or ViCLAS -- a national database that makes links between cases based on the behaviour of violent murderers like McGray.
A former colleague of Moore's has said he reviewed his work and found it credible, The RCMP has issued news releases saying no malice was intended by the destruction of the files.
The federal report that helped exonerate Assoun also says McGray, who was convicted of seven murders, has denied killing Way, saying in police interviews that he wouldn't make an innocent man spend time in a federal prison.
Moore's files were destroyed in the leadup to a 2006 effort by lawyer Jerome Kennedy to appeal the case.
Kennedy has said if he'd received the information, and placed it before the courts, he believes it would have prevented his client from spending eight more years in prison.
Lametti said he will leave comment on the RCMP's role in the Assoun case to the police force or to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
A spokesman for Goodale's office provided a statement indicating that provincial reviews and provincially based police review agencies can look at the actions of the RCMP acting under local contracts with municipal and provincial governments.
"The RCMP is Canada's national police force and provides contract policing services to eight provinces and three territories. This allows the provinces customized initiatives to address specific issues in their jurisdiction," wrote Scott Bardsley.
Asked about the destruction of the information prepared by Moore, Lametti said, "My understanding is that evidence wasn't destroyed with Mr. Assoun's case in mind but did touch upon his case."