Eliahs Knudsen Kent was wrongly released from the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility while being held on remand and awaiting trial, the Nova Scotia Justice Department said.
"I'm angry, I'm appalled and I don't know how this could possibly happen, something this serious," said provincial Justice Minister Metlege Diab. "My priority is to ensure the public's protected."
The Justice Department initially said Kent was awaiting sentencing on the charges, but later said that was incorrect. He was to appear in court next week.
Kent was wearing a red hoodie with the word "cocaine" written in white letters across the front, grey pants and white sneakers. He is six foot and 145 pounds, with dark hair.
Sean Kelly, director of correctional services, said an internal investigation is underway to find out what happened, the results of which will be made public. He had few details other than to say Kent was "released in error."
"We will be looking at absolutely every detail," said Kelly. "We will be looking at policies and procedures and we will be looking at staff conduct."
Kelly said once the results are known, appropriate corrective action will be taken, although he didn't elaborate.
Halifax police said corrections officials advised them Friday at 9:18 a.m. that Kent was released. They said Kent has a history of violence and asked the public not to approach him.
Since December 2007, there have been five people who were released from the custody of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility by mistake. In all cases, the inmates were returned, though some of them turned themselves in.
Officials blamed a number of factors for those inadvertent releases, including clerical errors and paperwork mix-ups.
"There's just too many of these and the only way public confidence will be restored is if the government comes clean and tells Nova Scotians why this continues to happen," said Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.
Baillie said the fact that the Justice Department's first public notification about Kent's release incorrectly said he was awaiting sentencing indicates there are still flaws.
"This is the one thing we count on the government to get right," he said.
NDP justice critic Frank Corbett said the jail has been an ongoing problem for governments of all political stripes, including his own.
"The Justice Department really has to take a long and hard look at what's happening at this institution," said Corbett.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the man was awaiting sentencing.