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N.S. premier seeks probe of possible criminality by police in Assoun case

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier says he wants the province's police watchdog to assess whether officers broke the law when they destroyed evidence in the case of a man who spent almost 17 years in prison before being declared innocent.

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier says he wants the province's police watchdog to assess whether officers broke the law when they destroyed evidence in the case of a man who spent almost 17 years in prison before being declared innocent.

Stephen McNeil told reporters Thursday the attorney general will ask the Serious Incident Response Team to assess whether there was criminal misconduct by police during the period before the appeal of Glen Assoun's conviction.

Assoun, 64, also lived under strict parole conditions for almost five more years before a Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling in March 2019 reversed his 1999 conviction for the murder of Brenda Way. Way was found with her throat slashed in a Dartmouth, N.S., parking lot in November 1995. The crime remains unsolved.

"I've asked the minister (of Justice) to refer this file to Serious Incident Response Team, the independent agency in this province," McNeil said following a cabinet meeting. "They will assess whether or not this is criminal in nature."

In July 2019, a federal Justice Department report revealed an RCMP unit that included Halifax police officers had destroyed a constable's database of information about other suspects in Way's murder, along with physical evidence the officer had gathered to back up his case.

The destruction of evidence occurred prior to Assoun's 2006 appeal hearing, which he lost.

Const. Dave Moore had tried repeatedly to tell his superiors his work was relevant, and yet it was never disclosed, according to the Justice Department's report. The Mounties have cited an internal review about the destruction of Moore's work, and have said there was "no malicious intent."

McNeil said if the watchdog determines such an inquiry is not in its mandate, then the province would "look at what are the other options for review of that process." The watchdog agency has a mandate that includes investigations of matters of "significant public interest" stemming from the actions of police officers.

Agency director Felix Cacchione said Thursday his office hasn't received a request to investigate the case, "so it's inappropriate to comment at this time."

Cacchione, a former judge in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, has said in an earlier interview with The Canadian Press that he felt the case falls outside his office's mandate, because the events occurred before SiRT was created.

Justice Minister Mark Furey told reporters his office is preparing a request for the police oversight agency.

"We've looked at what options we have available," Furey said Thursday. "One of the options is to engage SiRT on the specifics of this particular matter and determine if it's within their mandate."

Furey, a former RCMP officer, said if SiRT determines that the case falls in its mandate, "then we can have further discussion about appropriate resourcing."

"Right now, I'm waiting hear back through the department."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press