On November 12, 1995, a 28-year-old woman named Brenda Way was brutally murdered behind an apartment building in Dartmouth’s North End. Four years later, Way’s former boyfriend Glen Assoun was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 and a half years.
Assoun steadfastly maintained his innocence and fought to have his conviction overturned. He took his case to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, which rejected his appeal in 2006. Then Assoun convinced a group of Canadian lawyers and activists called the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted to take up his cause. Eight more years would pass as AIDWYC conducted its own investigation of the case and then filed an application with the court, seeking to have Assoun’s conviction overturned.
Last year, a Justice Department lawyer named Mark 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.”
With Green’s opinion in hand, on November 24, 2014 — 19 years after Brenda Way was murdered and 15 years after Glen Assoun was found guilty — Justice James Chipman ordered that Assoun be released from prison.
Assoun hasn’t yet been fully exonerated — his file is now with the federal Criminal Conviction Review Group, which will soon decide either to reject Assoun’s appeal and return him to prison, to order a new trial, or to send the matter back to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. So while Assoun is out of prison, he is not a free man. He wears an electronic ankle bracelet, abides by strict conditions, including house arrest, and is in a sort of judicial limbo, awaiting his fate.
Still, Assoun saw his release as vindication. “It’s been a long, terrible journey for me,” he told reporters outside the courtroom. “I’m an innocent man. I’ve always been innocent, and I always will be innocent.”
How is it possible that a man spent 16 years in prison for a murder he may not have committed?
To answer that question, I’ve spent the last year reviewing tens of thousands of pages of court documents and tracking down dozens of people involved in Assoun’s case. Over the coming weeks I’ll be publishing the results of that investigation.
The investigation details, in a word, injustice. It reveals how Glen Assoun was likely wrongfully convicted.
But additionally, the investigation shows that the likely now-unsolved murder of Brenda Way is not a unique event. Indeed, over the past decades, dozens of women and girls have been murdered in the Halifax area, and due in part to botched and incompetent police investigations, many of those murders remain unsolved.
And Assoun’s conviction raises a disturbing question: Has anyone else been wrongfully convicted? This investigation will show that, yes, more wrongful convictions may have occurred.
Lastly, the investigation sheds light on the desperation and violence that characterize life for those on the margins of society, and shows how indifference to the fate of murdered women and girls is the ultimate injustice, leading to still more death.