N.S. minister holds off comment on wrongful conviction case due to past as Mountie

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's justice minister — a retired Mountie — says he's waiting for a ruling on whether he has a conflict of interest before commenting on revelations the RCMP erased evidence in the case of a man wrongfully convicted of murder.

Mark Furey says he wrote the province's conflict of interest commissioner Tuesday seeking guidance on whether he can respond to the case of Glen Assoun.

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He says there have been suggestions that his 32-year career as an RCMP officer in Nova Scotia might compromise his ability to make impartial decisions on the matter, prompting his letter to former chief justice Joseph Kennedy seeking an opinion.

"There's some connection between my previous employment and this file," Furey told reporters.

"I just want to be sure, through the lens of the conflict of interest commissioner's office, that I'm able to continue to fulfil my roles as minister of justice and attorney general."

On March 1, Assoun, 63, was declared innocent of murder in the 1995 killing of Brenda Way after he'd served 17 years in federal penitentiaries and lived under restrictive bail conditions for four years.

A federal Justice Department report made public Friday revealed the RCMP chose not to disclose an investigator's theories of other suspects — including multiple murderer Michael McGray — in the Way case.

The department's preliminary assessment, which led to Assoun's release in 2014, said the evidence was erased or thrown away in the lead-up to Assoun's unsuccessful appeal in 2006.

The report by federal lawyer Mark Green was made public after an application by The Canadian Press, the CBC and the Halifax Examiner.

The erased evidence included work by Const. Dave Moore, who was an analyst working with the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System.

Moore generated extensive digital files on a theory that McGray was a suspect in the case based on his other murders and his patterns of behaviour. The constable also conducted a more conventional investigation that concluded the serial killer had lived near the scene of the crime.

All of the material created by Moore disappeared or was erased after he was transferred out of the unit.

The RCMP has said the files shouldn't have been deleted, but there was no malicious intent.

Jerome Kennedy, the lawyer who handled Assoun's appeal, has said he believes the erased RCMP evidence would have tipped the balance in his favour, and that Assoun wouldn't have gone on to serve eight more years in prison.

Assoun said in an interview Friday that he believes there's been "a coverup" in his case, and that "there needs to be an independent investigation away from the RCMP."

He said he has serious health problems that have been worsened by the years in prison and he is impoverished and unable to work.

"I had multiple heart attacks in prison. I have mental health problems that can't be corrected. I only have one third of my heart function left. I drag myself around every day," he said.

"I can't work any more because I'm weak."

Sean MacDonald, Assoun's lawyer with Innocence Canada, says he believes Assoun should receive some immediate compensation from the federal and provincial governments while an outside expert determines the full amount due to his client.

"The prime minister and the premier of Nova Scotia need to do the right thing. It's simple. They must compensate Glen," he said in an interview Friday.

— Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

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