The RCMP’s spin on the Glen Assoun wrongful conviction makes no sense. That is the view of two former RCMP officers who are familiar with the case.
It is now established that in 2004, the RCMP deleted information on a computer database that would have made the case that serial killer Michael McGray — not Glen Assoun — killed Brenda Way in 1995. As a result, Assoun spent another 10 years in prison.
The computer database is called the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS). (For a detailed explanation of ViCLAS, click here.) Starting in about 2001, ViCLAS analyst Dave Moore was searching for other murders that McGray may have committed, besides the six he had already been charged with. It’s that investigation that brought him to the Way murder, and to the information he put into the ViCLAS database.
Specifically, Moore tells the Halifax Examiner that he made 369 entries related to McGray into the ViCLAS database.
In 2004, however, that information was deleted.
But that wasn’t the only information Moore had related to his McGray investigation.
Moore says he made paper backups of each of the 369 entries. Additionally, he did considerable field work, and had 10 notebooks — one notebook for each of 10 witnesses he interviewed in the Assoun case.
Moore also had gigantic flow charts on his office wall. “I had a 5 ft x 4 ft chart on Assoun,” he tells the Examiner. “Over the top was an onion skin of the same size. The onion skin overlay was a timeline of when [McGray] was in any particular place in North America, based on the cashing of his welfare cheques.”
And in a recorded interview obtained by the Examiner, in 2014 Moore told Justice Department lawyer Mark Green that he had collected psychiatric reports and prison records on McGray.
All that information was collected in boxes in Moore’s ViCLAS office, in the Sunnyside Tower in Bedford. But in March 2004, when Moore returned from a short vacation, he found all his entries into the ViCLAS system had been deleted and all the paper records — the paper backups of the ViCLAS entries, the notebooks, the flowcharts, the prison reports, etc. — had been removed from his office. Most of that information is missing to this day, and presumed destroyed.
“All that critical evidence was locked in a four-tier file cabinet,” Moore tells the Examiner. “My office door also had a lock on it and I worked alone in my office. When I returned from holidays, my locks were busted off my cabinet.”
Karen Broydell, a ViCLAS analyst who was working in the same Bedford office tower when the information was deleted and removed, remembers it well.
“I know for a fact the materials were taken from the Bedford office when Dave was on vacation,” Broydell tells the Examiner.
Broydell said she worked in a separate office, but would come to Moore’s office to discuss work issues. She was quite familiar with the flowcharts and with Moore’s work on the McGray file.
“And that was gone when he returned from vacation. I remember distinctly the day he came back to work. We all walked in. And he was livid when he came back to work and understandably so because he had worked on this file quite intensely for a period of time and nobody wants their work tampered with. In particular missing.
“And this happened not during office hours because I would have been there and a number of other of my contemporaries work at the same time.”
A few days later, Moore was transferred out of ViCLAS and to the RCMP’s gambling investigative unit, a transfer he considers a demotion.
The Halifax Examiner, the CBC, and the Canadian Press went to court to get court documents related to the Assoun case unsealed, and on July 12, Supreme Court Justice James Chipman ruled in our favour. Only then did we learn of the deletion of the ViCLAS documents and the destruction of the paper documents.
The same day, the RCMP released a statement, which reads:
Today the Nova Scotia Supreme Court lifted a sealing order related to Justice Canada’s Criminal Conviction Review Group’s preliminary assessment of Glen Assoun’s second-degree murder conviction in the 1995 homicide of Ms. Brenda Way. This has resulted in an RCMP Nova Scotia Administrative Review being made public.
In 2014, a then serving member of the RCMP alleged that his analysis and material related to the homicide of Ms. Brenda Way were missing and had been intentionally destroyed. Given the seriousness of the allegations, the Nova Scotia RCMP immediately began an administrative review to determine what occurred.
The review was conducted by the Officer in Charge of Major Crime at the time who was an expert in ViCLAS analysis. The administrative review was extensive and found that ViCLAS worksheets had been deleted in 2004 when employees of the ViCLAS unit were asked to review a number of analyses completed from 2001-2003 for quality control purposes. The deletions were contrary to policy and shouldn’t have happened. They were not done, however, with malicious intent.
In full transparency, the RCMP provided the administrative review to the Criminal Conviction Review Group, the results of which factored in its preliminary assessment.
But the RCMP statement only addresses the deletion of the ViCLAS entries, and not the destruction of Moore’s paper evidence.
I read the RCMP statement to Broydell over the phone.
“Why would you be deleting for quality control purposes?” she responds. “That’s really, really peculiar… That doesn’t add up, in my opinion. When you’re building a database, you’re doing your quality control prior to doing your final entry on the system. So the objective is to get as large and as diverse a database as possible in order to do your queries.
“It does not make sense to me why you would go in and arbitrarily start deleting things for quality control purposes,” she continues. “That just does not add up. In the training I had for ViCLAS, that was — you didn’t delete anything. It was put in there into the system and left there because you never know, 20 years down the road some character you’ve added would be a benefit. So why would you arbitrarily delete them? It doesn’t make sense.“
Both Broydell and another ViCLAS analyst — Gilles Blinn, who worked in Fredericton when Broydell and Moore were working in Bedford — tell the Examiner that deleting the ViCLAS files would take some work.
“There’s not a button you push and suddenly it’s all gone,” says Blinn.
Both Blinn and Broydell confirm Moore’s claim that only supervisors — not the analysts — could delete information.
“No one at my level and Dave’s level would have had that ability to do so,” says Broydell. “And it is line by line. You can’t just go in and delete entire files. It doesn’t work that way. So it’s an arduous process.
“You know, you’re working on a national database,” continues Broydell. “So you can’t just arbitrarily go in and delete things just for the sake of doing so.”
Moore tells me that it would have taken several days, working straight through, to delete the 369 files he put on ViCLAS. Did that sound right to Broydell?
“It would take a considerable amount of time, that’s for sure,” she responds. “How much you would accomplish in a day, I don’t know — I’ve never been part of that process — but it would definitely be a time-consuming process.
No support from Moore’s superiors
The question remains: why would someone delete the ViCLAS files and destroy Moore’s paper evidence?
“He didn’t have the support of his superiors,” says Blinn.
Blinn recalls a case he worked on in New Brunswick — a cold case involving the corpse of a woman found on Gilbert’s Island near Fredericton. The woman remained unidentified for over a decade until Blinn, in part using the ViCLAS database, identified her as Donna Joe, an indigenous woman who had never been reported missing.
“I just said, ‘can I work on this?'” says Blinn. “And my superiors said, ‘sure, go ahead.'”
Moore didn’t have that kind of support, and his attempts to independently investigate in the field were resented by his superiors, says Blinn.
Blinn remembers that Moore was working on the McGray case because Moore had asked Blinn to independently run queries on McGray, as a check against Moore’s work. “It all checked out, no issues,” says Blinn.
“We worked for a very unusual individual named Dick Hutchings,” says Broydell. “And [Hutchings] basically had an issue with Dave and myself and other people in the office because — to me, from my perspective to be an effective analyst you have to think outside of the box and if you don’t do that you’re not going to capture the demographic and the material that you need in order to have a successful analysis. And Dick was very much opposed to that form of thinking.
“And Dave is a very intelligent man — he’s very much out of the box [and] he’s effective at the same time. And this would irritate Dick to no end — like he would become very agitated with all of us, if you’ve questioned him on anything. And he was just very annoyed with the process.
“He basically ruled the office, or tried to rule the office as best he could, with an iron fist.”
Broydell says she did not see Hutchings or anyone else delete the ViCLAS files or remove Moore’s evidence. She can’t express an opinion about that.
“Frankly, had I known what was going to happen, I would have made every effort to stop it because Dave was onto something when it came to Glen Assoun being accused of this,” says Broydell. “And to me, [Moore] nailed it way back in 2001. However there was — the personalities involved there — and I’m not sure why this happened, other than it would be a control of, basically putting Dave back in the box where Dick wanted him to be.”
Who deleted the ViCLAS files?
The “Administrative Review” of the deletion of the ViCLAS files was conducted by RCMP Inspector Larry Wilson, the Officer in Charge of Major Crimes in Halifax. Wilson conducted the review in response to Justice Department lawyer Mark Green’s 2014 investigation of the Assoun case.
According to Green’s assessment of Assoun’s case, “[i]n March 2004, Sgt. Hutchings, not confident in Moore’s work, ordered a review of all his cases. Although Hutchings does not recall ordering this review, Wilson indicated that there are notes on some of the files confirming this was the case. This review of Moore’s work was also confirmed by other ViCLAS analysts. The analysts involved in the review of Moore’s work in 2004 were interviewed as part of the current [i.e., Green’s 2014] investigation and confirmed that Hutchings did not tell them to delete Moore’s files.”
But it appears that Wilson’s review missed most of Moore’s ViCLAS entries that had been deleted. To begin, the person charged with analyzing the deletions — a Cpl. Desrosiers — found evidence of 233 files that had been entered by Moore, not the 369 Moore tells the Examiner he had entered. Even then, Desrosiers reviewed only a sample of those entries.
In any event, Wilson’s administrative review identifies the people who conducted the review of Moore’s work that was ordered by Hutchings in 2004 as Cst. Mike Waghorn, Sgt. Kevin Tellenback, Cpl. Tom Aucoin, Cst. Debbie Burstall, and Sgt. Ken Bradley.
Wilson’s review names one person who appears to have deleted at least some of Moore’s files, but that name is redacted, both in the copy of the review obtained by the Examiner on July 12 and in the copy obtained by Green in 2014.
Wilson stated that he has a good idea as to who deleted the files based on the file review itself as well as comments by some of the analysts who were interviewed. Wilson was not prepared to say who that was during our interview. The name of the individual suspected of deleting Moore’s files has been deleted from Wilson’s written report along with the names of the other ViCLAS analysts. The individual suspected does not recall the file review and denies deleting any of Moore’s Work Sheets. Wilson said that he does not know why the person took the action they did. Some analysts said they were concerned about Work Sheets being deleted and brought this to the attention of Sgt. Hutchings. Hutchings has no recollection of this. Wilson also stated that contrary to Moore’s belief, he does not think either Sgt. Hutchings or Sgt. Bradley deleted any of Moore’s files.
Understand that Green, the Justice Department lawyer, was interviewing Wilson about the administrative review because the ViCLAS information never made it to Glen Assoun’s lawyer — and therefore could not be used to establish Assoun’s innocence of the murder of Brenda Way. For Wilson to withhold the name of the person responsible for deleting the files is, well, remarkable.
Wilson said he didn’t believe that either Hutchings or Bradley deleted the files, but he refused to say who did… so how much faith should we put in that statement?
And what about Sgt. Ken Bradley?
Bradley was a Halifax Regional Police Department investigator on assignment to the ViCLAS unit. Nine years before Moore’s files were deleted, in 1995, Bradley was the forensic ident investigator working on… the Brenda Way murder.
“There was some peculiar things happening in ViCLAS — really, really odd,” says Broydell. “And in particular when you’ve got HRP members working within there. Ken [Bradley] would have known about Dave’s investigation on the Brenda Way murder. So — I don’t know what was said or what was done specifically but the end results, I’m not impressed by. The fact that somebody spent a lengthy period of their adult life in prison for a crime that they didn’t commit. And in today’s society there’s no need for that because the whole objective behind ViCLAS is to hone in and get the person who’s responsible, not just arbitrarily select someone over here because they have a criminal background or you don’t like the colour of their hair.
“I worked in the RCMP for 38 and a half years,” continues Broydell. “And along my path of service, ViCLAS was one of the most disappointing areas I’ve ever worked in. And what happened in Dave’s situation — and it could have been Mike or me or anybody, had we investigated that file. And it’s wrong. Wrong on so many levels.”
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