HALIFAX — A Halifax man will receive interim compensation from the federal and provincial governments after spending almost 17 years in prison as the result of a wrongful conviction in the murder of his former girlfriend.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday the agreement for an undisclosed amount of financial help for Glen Assoun has been finalized and the cheque will be available within days.
The 63-year-old Assoun was convicted in 1999 of the knifing murder of Brenda Way four years earlier.
In addition to his time in prison, Assoun spent more than four years on bail — with part of that time wearing an ankle bracelet — before being exonerated earlier this year.
"I'm having a good day for the first time in a long time," Assoun said during a telephone interview.
Furey said the decision to provide an initial payment — shared equally by the two governments — was made due to the federal Justice minister's finding that there was likely a miscarriage of justice in Assoun's case.
"The circumstances of Mr. Assoun have been shared, and we felt it appropriate that this ex-gratia, short-term payment was a reasonable first step," said the cabinet minister.
An ex-gratia payment is one where a party makes a payment without admitting its liability or obligation to provide the money. Governments have provided these payments in earlier wrongful conviction cases.
Assoun's lawyers have said some immediate compensation is important for their client because he has been living in poverty and has health problems related to his incarceration.
Assoun said the money is enough to last until a full settlement is reached, and it will allow him to move into his own apartment. He has been living with a friend in Halifax as negotiations took place over the last six weeks.
"I'm grateful that they acted quickly on it, because I've been in dire straits in terms of living accommodations. I've been living with a friend, and I'd like to get out on my own and move my life forward," he said.
Assoun has said he suffered beatings, multiple heart attacks and developed mental health problems while he was incarcerated. Word that he will soon receive a settlement helped relieve his anxiety over the future, he said.
Furey said he has not decided whether to hold a public inquiry into the case — or whether to provide an apology to Assoun.
Opposition leaders in Ottawa and Nova Scotia have called for some kind of probe into the destruction of potential evidence prepared by Const. Dave Moore, an analyst in an RCMP unit that looked at the behaviour of serial offenders.
A federal Justice Department report made public on July 12 revealed that the RCMP erased and disposed of Moore's theories of other suspects — including multiple murderer Michael McGray — in the Brenda Way case.
The federal report says McGray has denied killing Way, and McGray, who is incarcerated, has declined interview requests.
Phil Campbell, one of the lawyers who represents Assoun, said the settlement amount will not be disclosed.
"It's a small amount of compensation in light of the losses Glen has suffered, but it is ... enough to get him on his feet and begin to live independently and comfortably while the entire compensation is sorted out," he said.
Campbell said it remains unclear if a final settlement will be negotiated or require litigation.
"But the speed and spirit of this payment augurs well," for a negotiated settlement, he said.
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