Glen Assoun is moving to Halifax.
In 1999, Assoun was convicted of the 1996 murder of his former girlfriend, Brenda Way. Assoun always maintained his innocence, but spent 16 years in prison for the murder.
Assoun is the subject of the first three parts of the Examiner’s Dead Wrong series.
Although Assoun was not eligible for parole — in part because he maintained his innocence, and in part because he hadn’t served enough time imprisoned — in November 2014 Justice Jamie Chipman ordered that Assoun be released from prison. That extraordinary court-ordered release has only been granted to five other Canadians.
Assoun’s release came because the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted (now called Innocence Canada) took up his case, and finally got the attention of a Justice Department lawyer named Mark Green. Green reviewed AIDWYC’s submission and came to a startling conclusion: “I am of the view,” wrote Green to Assoun, “that on the basis of all this information, including the new and significant information that has been submitted with your application, there may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in your case.”
“It’s been a long, terrible journey for me,” Assoun told me outside the courtroom in November 2014. “I’m an innocent man. I’ve always been innocent, and I always will be innocent.”
But his parole came with strict conditions: He had to live with his daughter Tanya in British Columbia. He had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. He had to report weekly both to the RCMP and to his parole officer. He was under virtual house arrest, not able to leave the premises in the evening or night. In those hours when he wasn’t required to be in the house, he was prohibited from travelling to large geographic swaths of B.C. He couldn’t drink alcohol. Should he even talk with a woman, he had to report the interaction to the police.
Those were especially tough conditions for a many who was probably, in Chimpan’s words, “factually innocent” of the crime he had been convicted of.
But what was supposed to happen is the Criminal Conviction Review Group — a division of the federal Justice Department that looks at probable wrongful convictions — was to examine Assoun’s case and make a recommendation for resolving it. Once the CCRG makes its recommendation, the Minister of Justice can either fully exonerate Assoun, order a new trial, or send him back to prison to serve the rest of his time.
But it’s been three long years since Assoun was released, and still no word from the Justice Department.
In the meanwhile, the conditions of Assoun’s parole were changed so he could move away from Tanya’s house. I don’t know what caused that move. Certainly the stress of caring for Assoun would be a burden on anyone, but there may be a financial or other reason I’m not aware of. Regardless, a couple of years ago the parole conditions were changed so that Assoun could live alone in an apartment in Chilliwack, while his brother David Assoun and David’s wife, Brenda Williams, served as sureties.
But then David Assoun had a significant health issue, and is now in a nursing home.
Three years is a long time. Three years mostly restricted to your apartment, with an ankle bracelet and no friends or relatives to call on you while some group of bureaucrats in far-away Ottawa diddle (or not) with your fate is something akin to torture.
Earlier this year, Glen Assoun broke. He fell into deep depression and had a mental health breakdown. He checked himself into a mental health hospital.
Alarmed, the lawyers at Innocence Canada sought to again change the conditions of Assoun’s parole.
And Assoun’s other daughter, Tanya Assoun, and Tanya’s wife, Shannon Huckle, have agreed to house Glen Assoun in their Halifax home and to serve as sureties. Tanya Assoun has a career in law enforcement and Huckle is an executive with a major firm.
A hearing for that change in conditions was held Friday at the Supreme Court in Halifax. Once again, Chipman heard the case.
The Public Prosecution Service initially opposed the move because Assoun had not submitted his own affidavit in support of the move.
My understanding is that three other affidavits had been filed — by Innocence Canada, Amanda Assoun, and Shannon Huckle — but the lawyers didn’t want to press Glen Assoun to write about his own mental health condition.
But with the crown insisting, this morning Glen Assoun wrote and signed his own affidavit. That was enough for Chipman.
“The ministerial Review process is still in limbo,” said Chipman, clearly pained by Assoun’s condition. “It is impossible to know when the ministerial review process will conclude with the minister’s decision.”
Even though with submission of Assoun’s affidavit the crown didn’t oppose his move to Halifax, the crown did insist that Assoun keep wearing an electronic bracelet. Chipman would have none of it.
“I regard both Shannon Huckle and Amanda Assoun as stellar sureties,” ruled Chipman. “I am satisfied on the basis of their affidavit and Mr. Assoun’s affidavit that these three individuals have given much thought to the road ahead. I would add that I am more optimistic for Mr. Assoun and his mental health challenges when I consider the increased role the new order will give to the people he is closest to, his daughter and her wife. The fact that Ms. Huckle and Ms. Assoun are working is a positive, and I am confident that they will be excellent day-to-day role models for Mr. Assoun.
“With respect to compliance,” continued Chipman, “I want to directly address Mr. Assoun and say how impressed I am with Mr. Assoun, with your adherence to the previous orders…. Mr. Assoun has a three-year track record. He has whole-heartedly complied with the past judicial interim release conditions. Above all, I know that he knows he has much to lose if he breaches. Given Mr. Assoun’s history, I do not regard him as a flight risk…. even at his darkest point over the last three years, Mr. Assoun did not breach his conditions. Rather, at his depths of his mental health situation, he did the right thing: He showed up at the hospital where he received the health he needed. I believe that Mr. Assoun is continuing on his road to recovery. There may well be setbacks along the way, but I see no reason for the continued imposition of electronic monitoring.”
While the bracelet comes off, geographic restrictions stay in place. Assoun is prohibited from travelling to five zones in the Halifax region. The exact areas of those zones are not part of the public record, but they are areas where witnesses in the original murder conviction trial now live. Assoun and his lawyers initially asked that an exception be made should Assoun be travelling with Tanya Assoun or Shannon Huckle, but they dropped the request when Chipman said that added a layer of unneeded complexity.
Asked how Assoun reacted to Chipman’s ruling, Assoun’s lawyers said that he said simply, “Today’s a good day.”
Today marks the third anniversary, to the day, of Glen Assoun’s release from prison. There’s still no word from the Justice Department.