1. The Glen Assoun case: a primer
I’ve been doing a lot of reporting on the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun, and there’s more coming. So this is a good time to pause and provide an overview, a primer, if you will, so people not familiar with the case can get up to speed.
Glen Assoun convicted of murder
Brenda Way was brutally murdered behind an apartment building on Albro Lake Road on November 12, 1995. Glen Assoun was convicted of the second degree murder of Way in 1999, and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 and a half years.
I wasn’t living in Nova Scotia when Way was murdered or when Assoun was convicted. I first became aware of Assoun’s case on the day he was released from jail in November 2014, on an extraordinary count-ordered probation.
I was quite curious about the case, and so spent the next 13 months going through court transcripts (over 10,000 pages) and interviewing people, which resulted in my “Dead Wrong” series, starting in January 2016.
I very much wanted to tell the story of the marginalized and forgotten population in Dartmouth, the drug addicts, alcoholics, sex workers, and hopeless people that are largely ignored or preyed upon by the rest of the population; Part 1 of that series hopefully gave insight to that community through the murder of Brenda Way.
Part 2 dealt with Assoun’s trial, which was beyond absurd.
There’s one element in the trial that is especially absurd — a knife. When Brenda Way’s body was found, the cops did all the usual things: taped off the murder scene, brought in the medical examiner, had dogs and investigators canvass for evidence, etc. I think they held the scene for over a day. But besides Way’s body, they found nothing.
Fast forward several months, and Brenda’s sister Jane was at a party where she met a psychic. Jane told the psychic that her sister had been killed and it was all a mystery, so over the course of three days, Jane and the psychic held sessions, and at the end of that time, the psychic told Jane that Brenda had been killed with a knife with the tip missing from it.
(The psychic is not named in court documents, but she was introduced to Jane by someone named Ann Pritchard. I’ve been unable to locate Pritchard; if anyone can help…)
Then, Jane went back to the murder scene — this was about 10 months after the murder — and lo and behold, Jane finds a knife with the tip missing from it.
There’s no evidence on the knife — no DNA or blood or fingerprints, nothing that would link it to either Assoun or the murder — but that knife was entered as evidence at trial. I wrote about the knife in Part 2, here.
Part 3 of Dead Wrong dealt with the question, “If Glen Assoun didn’t kill Brenda Way, who did?” Note that even in 2016, I discussed serial killer Michael McGray as a suspect in Way’s murder.
Assoun was released from prison in November 2014, but he still was not a free man. He was under strict conditions, including being under house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet, reporting to police agencies, prohibited from entire sections of town, and more. These conditions remained in place while his case was fully investigated.
I wrote a lot about Assoun in the intervening years, mostly just to note that the investigation into the wrongful conviction was going painfully slow. One article notes that Assoun had a mental health crisis while in that legal limbo.
Assoun was finally exonerated due to the hard work of the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, now called Innocence Canada. That exoneration came in March of this year — four and a half years after he had been released from prison.
Note that by September 2017, Justice Department lawyers had recommended that then-Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould order a new trial for Assoun, but Wilson-Raybould sat on the file for 18 months, taking no action; during that time Assoun had his mental health crisis. Very soon after Wilson-Raybould was replaced by David Lametti, Lametti ordered the new trial, which led to Assoun’s exoneration the very next day.
But even though Assoun had been exonerated, the actual court documents that explain why Assoun was exonerated were sealed. That’s why the Halifax Examiner, the CBC, and the Canadian Press went to court to get them unsealed. This cost a lot of money; I’ll provide a full accounting of it after we get the final bill for legal services.
We prevailed on July 12, when Justice James Chipman ruled in our favour and the documents became public.
What we’ve learned
Those documents show that there are several layers as to how Assoun was wrongfully convicted, which I have summarized as follows:
• Shoddy police investigation
First, the police investigation into Brenda Way’s murder was shoddy, in that potential suspects were not properly investigated. These suspects include Avery Greenough, a violent man with a history of rape and attacking sex workers who lived in Dartmouth, and Michael McGray, a serial killer who lived on Jackson Road, about 100 meters from the murder site.
By 1999, McGray was sitting in prison in Renous, New Brunswick, charged with six murders. He had told friends, family, and prisoner officials that he was responsible for 11 more murders, including that of a sex worker in Nova Scotia. Halifax police briefly considered McGray a suspect in the Brenda Way murder, and so sent Cst. Steve Maxwell to Renous to talk to McGray. Maxwell simply asked McGray if he killed Brenda Way; McGray said he didn’t, and so far as the documents relate, that was the end of it. They took the word of a serial killer.
At the same time, however, police were not taking the word of Glen Assoun, who always maintained his innocence.
So far, we’re not talking about any police misconduct, but rather simple incompetence.
• Convicting Assoun
Police and prosecutorial misconduct comes into play in developing the case against Assoun. To say witnesses were leaned on is to put it mildly. Here are just three examples (there are others):
“Roberta,” a sex worker who was brutally attacked by a man who claimed to have killed Brenda Way, is a confusing story. It was she who contacted police to say she believed it was Assoun who attacked her. But when she wavered, she was hassled and cajoled by investigators — repeatedly picked up for minor infractions — until she agreed to testify. Then, police put her up in the Marriott Casino hotel, with the full knowledge that she was using drugs and turning tricks out of her hotel room while she was awaiting her court appearance. Had that situation been told to the court, Roberta’s testimony surely would not have been allowed.
(There were other problems with Roberta’s testimony I won’t go into depth about here, but the physical description of the man who attacked her fits McGray, and not Assoun.)
Then there’s David Carvery, a jailhouse snitch who said Assoun had confessed to murdering Way while the two were incarcerated together in the Halifax Correctional Facility. In return for his testimony, Carvery’s sentence on his own drug charges was reduced from a potential five years in prison to an actual five months’ served. But on the witness stand, Carvery said he received two years’ imprisonment, a flat-out lie. Crown prosecutors knew Carvery was lying to the court, but said nothing.
Another witness was Corey Tuma, an alcoholic. Police told Tuma that Assoun was a “cold-blooded killer,” and so Tuma changed his testimony to place Way and Assoun into a timeline that made Assoun killing Way plausible. Police put Tuma up in a hotel, too, and the night and early morning before he testified he got so blitzed drunk that Tuma now says he has no idea what he said on the stand the next day.
• RCMP destroyed evidence
There are two intertwining timelines involved here. The first timeline is RCMP Constable Dave Moore’s building suspicion that McGray, not Assoun, killed Brenda Way. As he followed his hunches, Moore inputed data into an RCMP database and collected hundreds of documents and other evidence kept in several cardboard boxes in his office. Then he pressed his concerns up the chain of command, telling his superiors that “Glen Assoun is innocent.” They mostly ignored him, one officer telling him he was wasting his time as the court had already convicted Assoun.
The second timeline concerns Newfoundland lawyer Jerome Kennedy, who had taken up Assoun’s appeal. With the help of his investigator, a retired RCMP cop named Fred Fitzsimmons, Kennedy learned that there was a computer profile of McGray as a potential suspect for the Way murder, so he asked police and crown prosecutors for that computer profile.
In early 2004 Moore went on vacation, and on his return discovered that he was transferred out of his position, that the entries he had made into the computer system about McGray had been deleted, and that his boxes of evidence had been destroyed. I’m still working through the documents to pen down cause and effect, but it at least appears that the evidence was destroyed because Kennedy was asking for it. In any event, the information Kennedy requested wasn’t provided to Kennedy because it didn’t exist. As such, Kennedy couldn’t tell the appellant court that there was a strong alternative suspect for the murder that police had ignored, and so Assoun’s appeal was denied. Assoun spent another nine years in prison.
That last part was the subject of an article we published Sunday: “Dave Moore’s work could have cleared Glen Assoun of murder; here’s how and why the RCMP destroyed it.”
Last Friday, we published excerpts of my interview with Assoun, “‘Prison was hell’: Glen Assoun tells his story” — in which, among other things, Glen tells of being tortured by guards while at the Dorchester Penitentiary.
There’s much more to the story. We’ve just scratched the surface so far. Stay tuned.
2. Pedestrian killed
Halifax police reported yesterday that at about 9:35am a pedestrian had been struck and killed on Lady Hammond Road between Commission Street and Kempt Road.
Subsequent police releases said that the victim was a 63-year-old Halifax woman; police did not name her. She was struck by a semi truck driven by a 53-year-old Dartmouth man.
Chronicle Herald reporter Francis Campbell provides much more detail. The woman was apparently coming back from delivering a pet at the 4 Paws veterinary clinic. The truck driver appears to have been making a right turn from MacKintosh Street onto Lady Hammond Road, which is the primary truck route from the container terminal onto the MacKay Bridge.
In June, Samantha White, part of the Facebook group HRM Safe Streets for Everyone, called for a crosswalk at this exact location. “Is there any way to request a crosswalk be put in somewhere on this street?” she wrote. “I’m getting really tired of dodging traffic just to get to my dentist and no one is willing to stop and let me cross safely.”
Yesterday at about 5pm, firefighters responded to the former Salvation army at 5280 Green Street, only to find a car parked in front of the fire hydrant. Ever resourceful, the firefighters simply smashed the windows of the car and ran their hose through the car. Photos from @VP_Ketchup / Twitter:
There might have been a slight bit of confusion to the car driver because there’s a sign saying the spot is a two-hour parking area:
Of course, everyone should know that the actual presence of a hydrant trumps whatever a sign might say, but it is bad placement of the sign.
Fires crews spent several hours on the scene. No one was injured in the fire, and as of this morning, a cause has yet to be assigned.
But it’s the fifth fire in 16 months within about a hundred metres of each other in the South End. Three of other three fires started on the outside of the respective buildings; two of those are considered arson while the cause of the third is undetermined.
The fourth fire was earlier this month (July 3) in an apartment building 5515 Victoria Road, about a block away from last night’s fire. The cause of that fire is unknown, but it ignited inside the building in a storage room; I don’t know if there was public access to the room.
I created this Google Map of the recent fires:
5481 Victoria Road, Halifax
March 5 2018
This fire involved a Mixed Use-Residential & Commercial Building. There were no injuries and no fatalities. The ignition source is unknown. Fire investigators have determined the area of origin as the outside of the building. The cause of this fire is classified as UNDETERMINED.
5460 Inglis Street, Halifax
May 08 2018
This fire involved a Multi Unit Residential Dwelling. There were no injuries and no fatalities. The ignition source is undetermined. Fire investigators have determined the area of origin as the building exterior. The cause of this fire is classified as INCENDIARY.
5415 Victoria Rd., Halifax
Oct. 27, 2018
This fire involved a storage shed. There were no injuries and no fatalities. The ignition source is undetermined. Fire investigators have determined the area of origin as the exterior. The cause of this fire is classified as INCENDIARY.
5515 Victoria Rd., Halifax
July 3, 2019
This fire involved a residential occupancy. There were no injuries and no fatalities. The ignition source is unknown. The area of origin was determined to be a storage room. The cause of this fire is classified as UNKNOWN.
4. Matt Whitman says something stupid
“A Halifax councillor wants to break the law and appoint, rather than elect, a new councillor for Lower Sackville in a bid to save $250,000,” reports Zane Woodford for Star Metro:
At a special meeting Friday, the audit and finance committee recommended council withdraw $250,000 from the municipal elections reserve bank account to pay for a special election in Lower Sackville.
Councillor Matt Whitman, the only one who voted against the committee’s motion, believes the municipality should find an interim replacement for councillor Steve Craig, instead of holding the election.
I think a case can be made that electronic voting is too costly. But that’s not the argument Whitman presented. In fact, in May 2017, Whitman voted in favour of making byelections entirely electronic voting.
No public meetings.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — the committee wants to put the University Avenue Fire Station on the historic registry..
No public meetings this week.
PhD Defence, Physics and Atmospheric Science (Tuesday, 10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD Candidate Samuel Baldwin will defend “Structural Variation and Enzymatic Susceptibility of Collagen Fibrils Extracted from Native and Overloaded Tail Tendons.”
Community Garden (Tuesday, 12pm, Henry Street behind the Computer Science Building) — volunteers wanted. All fresh produce donated to the Loaded Ladle’s free meals program for students. Info and sign-up sheet here.
Predicting the Ambulance Offload Delay Problem Using A Hybrid Decision Tree Model (Wednesday, 10am, Room MA 310, 5269 Morris Street) — Mengyu Li will speak. The abstract:
Introduction: Ambulance offload delay (AOD) is a growing health care concern in Canada. It refers to the delay in transferring an ambulance patient to a hospital emergency department (ED) due to ED congestion. It can negatively affect the ability of the ambulance service to respond to future calls and reduces the efficiency of the system, when the delay is significant.
Methods: Using integrated historical data from a partnering hospital and an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provider, we developed a decision-support tool using a hybrid decision tree model to predict the severity of AOD occurring within 1 to 5 hours in an EMS system. The primary objective of this study is to provide a prediction model for the AOD states based on the current system status as well as hours of the day and day of the week, so that the decision makers can activate proactive interventions at different states of the system to mitigate AOD.
Results: Various prediction models were developed based on different prediction focuses and periods to be tailored to the client’s needs. The prediction models perform relatively well with accuracy rates of 60%-75%, 69%-83%, and 91%-95%, with respect to different prediction settings. Furthermore, we aim to advance the application of predictive modeling in health care. This research demonstrates a novel hybrid decision tree method that being applied with administrative data in the health care setting. A naïve Bayes classifier was employed first to remove the noisy training observations before the decision tree induction. This hybrid decision tree algorithm was tested against the basic classification and regression tree (CART) algorithm, using classification accuracy, precision, sensitivity and specificity analysis. The results indicate that the hybrid algorithm outperforms the traditional algorithm by an average accuracy improvement of 2.44%.
Conclusions: It is anticipated that the prediction model for AOD produced from this study will be directly transferable. It can be generalized to other EMS systems with a similar operational setting where ambulance offload is impacted by ED congestion.
Feasibility study and analysis of converting the urban bus fleet from diesel to electric bus in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (Wednesday, 11am, Room MA 310, 5269 Morris Street) — Prasanth Chundi will speak. The abstract:
Halifax Transit is a public transport agency that operates buses and ferries in Nova Scotia’s Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Halifax Transit is the largest Transit agency in Atlantic Canada, serving more than 10,000 passengers daily. Halifax Transit has 312 diesel buses and 2 Diesel-hybrid buses which produce about 177 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions daily. HRM is considering a large-scale adoption of electric vehicles in its network to achieve emission reduction targets.
The primary objective of this independent academic project is to determine the feasibility of introducing electric buses (“e-buses”) in service to the Halifax Transit fleet. A Mixed Integer Linear Programming (MILP) was formulated to optimally choose bus types in the fleet. Several different electric bus types (depending on manufacturer, size, range, and battery type) can be input to the model as alternatives for the current diesel buses in the fleet. The optimization model minimizes the total fleet cost which includes the cost of purchase, maintenance, charging, infrastructure and training, consumption, and emissions. The constraints in the model require that a block (a single bus allocated to a set of daily routes) is assigned either an electric or diesel bus, the bus chosen is feasible for the length of the block, total emissions per day should not exceed a certain level, and the charging infrastructure at terminals is adequate.
Several scenarios are investigated based on factors such as the fixed cost charge (and interest rate) assigned to diesel buses, providing fast chargers at terminals to extend the travel range of electrical buses, emissions costs and target emission levels. Based on the information/data available, the obtained results suggest that there is an opportunity for Halifax Transit to use 269 electric buses (out of a total of 312). This scenario results in a reduction of 80 metric tonnes of GHG emissions daily (i.e., a reduction of about 45% GHG produced daily), but its implementation will require thorough planning, training, and resources to ensure the city is able to derive the full benefits of this fleet conversion. It is believed that doing so will help in the improvement of health, the environment, and the economy locally.
Mount Saint Vincent
No public events.
Making and Mentoring (Wednesday, 6pm, MSVU Art Gallery) — from the listing:
In conjunction with First You Dream: Celebrating 75 Years of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust, MSVU Art Gallery is hosting a panel discussion on the topic of mentorship with artists Lux Habrich, Dan O’Neill and Pamela Ritchie. MSVU Art Gallery Director Laura Ritchie will facilitate a conversation about the artists’ experiences with mentorship and how it has influenced their respective practices and professional development. All are welcome and refreshments will be served.
American Sign Language interpretation is available on request. More info here.
In the harbour
04:00: MOL Paradise, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
05:30: Toledo, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
14:00: Sycara V, superyacht, arrives at Tall Ships Quay from St. John’s
16:00: Toledo sails for sea
16:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
These summer rain storm remind me of my childhood in Virginia, when we’d rush out to close the car windows and batten down the house. Yep, back in the day, we’d leave our cars unlocked with the windows down. You kids have no idea.
I don’t have a cpyeditor today. Please be kind.
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Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, City Hall) — the committee wants to put the University Avenue Fire Station on the historic registry..
Quickest way to attract a developer who proposes a development agreement with HRM to demolish the fire station and build a new rectangle on the site.
Once again, great work on Assoun.
Matt Whitman is right. It’s beyond absurd that Halifax will blow a quarter of million dollars electing 1 district councilor who will serve barely a year. How in the world did we reach the point where Council and staff approve such exorbitant spending without a by your leave?
That question cries out for some journalism.
Unfortunately the reporter in question was too focused on ridiculing a councillor his fans love to hate than in giving any thought to the perfectly problem he raised.