Glen Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The Province of Nova Scotia has reached a financial settlement with Glen Assoun, the Dartmouth man who spent 17 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murdering Brenda Way.

Assoun was fully exonerated two years ago this week — on March 1, 2019. Although he received a tiny interim compensation, the wait for a full compensation package took frustratingly long.

Negotiations with Assoun and the federal Justice department were conducted under the previous justice minister, Mark Furey. 

The settlement is “recent” and its terms are “confidential,” according to Randy Delorey, the new minister of Justice and attorney general, sworn in nine days ago. 

Apart from wanting to know how much compensation Assoun received, there’s the matter of a public apology, which Assoun had been pressing for and to which he seems entitled.

“All aspects of bringing the situation to a conclusion is confidential,” replied Delorey when questioned about whether the province intends to make a public apology. “The agreement predates my time in office but the parties are satisfied that it has been concluded.”

Delorey told reporters he has not yet had the time to read the actual settlement document. 

Onslow fire hall shooting

The Onslow Belmont Fire Hall.
The Onslow Belmont Fire Hall. Photo: Jennifer Henderson Credit: Jennifer Henderson

With no further information available, journalists asked the fresh-faced Justice minister about the report earlier this week from the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT). It found no charges were warranted against two RCMP officers who opened fire on two people outside the Onslow Fire Hall during a manhunt for a mass murderer last April. No one was physically injured at the scene although the lives of five first responders were put at risk.

The SIRT report found the officers who fired five bullets had a “lawful reason” for drawing their weapons and that the RCMP’s internal radio communications had failed to function properly when the two officers radioed for more information before starting to shoot. 

The SIRT report concluded the communications system was overwhelmed by the volume of messages being shared among dozens of officers looking for a murder suspect in a fake police cruiser. 

Asked for his response to the police communications breakdown on that tragic day, Delorey responded:

“We do want to understand all aspects of what transpired that day and that’s why a public inquiry is underway. Part of what they will be looking at is the communications that took place throughout the event.”

Passing the buck wasn’t good enough for Global reporter Jesse Thomas who followed up with this question: “But there is clear evidence in the SIRT report that the communications system failed on April 19. That means right now, if we have another emergency, that could potentially happen again. Are you comfortable waiting until November 2022 for changes to be made, why isn’t the government taking action now?”

“The emergency system technology itself is run by a different department,” answered Delorey. “They have indicated the most inexpensive assessment of the operations would be through the public inquiry. That process is underway and they would be able to make recommendations for any changes that might be needed.”

When reached via Zoom, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston said Delorey should be taking a more proactive approach. “What would be best is if the Justice minister worked closely with the RCMP to say, ‘what are you doing in the short term and how can we support that?’ I would hope the Justice minister is not sitting back and waiting to see what comes out of an Inquiry. It should be about how do we improve public safety for Nova Scotians.”

A message on the Facebook site of the Onslow Belmont volunteer Fire Department noted that the SIRT report is “frustrating, disappointing, and ultimately doesn’t lead to accountability.” If today’s session with the Justice minister is any indication, accountability will remain an elusive commodity.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Remember years ago when Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, wrongly imprisoned for 19 years, spoke at the North End Library one the questions was what compensation did the State of New Jersey give you “Nothing”