The Nova Scotia Legislature

The House resumed on:
September 21, 2017.

Hansard -- Fri., May 3, 1996

Fourth Session

FRIDAY, MAY 3, 1996

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS:
Justice - Victims of Abuse: Compensation Package - Outline,
Hon. W. Gillis 1335
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 440, Nat. Res.: Forest Week (National) - Support,
Hon. E. Norrie 1342
Vote - Affirmative 1342
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS:
No. 20, Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act, Hon. J. Abbass 1342
No. 21, Architects Act, Hon. J. Abbass 1342
NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 441, Justice - Family Violence: Victims - Legal Rep. Ensure,
Mr. T. Donahoe 1343
Vote - Affirmative 1343
Res. 442, ERA - Dev. Strategy: Job Creation - Produce,
Mr. R. Chisholm 1343
Res. 443, Sports - Rowing: Olympics (1996) - Mike Forgeron (Main-à-Dieu)/
Todd Hallett (Dartmouth)-Success Wish, Mr. A. MacLeod 1344
Vote - Affirmative 1344
Res. 444, Lbr. - Construction Safety Assocs. (Cdn. Fed.):
Annual Meeting (Hfx.) - Welcome, Mr. R. Russell 1344
Vote - Affirmative 1345
Res. 445, Gov't. (Can.) - Cuts: Gov't. (N.S.) -
Interests (N.S.) Protect, Mr. J. Holm 1345
Res. 446, Truro - Day of Peace: Organizers - Commend,
Mr. B. Taylor 1345
Vote - Affirmative 1346
Res. 447, Lbr. - Cable Workers (C.B.): Strike - Negotiations Urge,
Mr. A. MacLeod 1346
Res. 448, Fin. - Taxation: Relief (01/07/97) - Believability,
Mr. R. Russell 1346
Res. 449, Fin. - PST & GST Harmonization: Public Hearings -
Hold, Mr. R. Chisholm 1347
Res. 450, Educ. - Ash-Lee Cons. School: Expansion -
Commitment Fulfil, Mr. B. Taylor 1348
HOUSE RESOLVED INTO CWH ON SUPPLY AT 8:49 A.M. 1349
HOUSE RECONVENED AT 12:49 P.M. 1349
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 12, Adoption Information Act 1349
Hon. J. Smith 1349
Mr. A. MacLeod 1350
Mr. R. Chisholm 1352
Mr. J. Leefe 1354
Mr. T. Donahoe 1358
Adjourned debate 1361
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Mon., May 6th at 2:00 p.m. 1362
[Page 1335]

HALIFAX, FRIDAY, MAY 3, 1996

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Session

8:00 A.M.

SPEAKER

Hon. Paul MacEwan

DEPUTY SPEAKER

Mrs. Francene Cosman

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would like to call the House to order at this time and commence the daily agenda of business. Are there any introductions of guests before we begin? If not, we will go through the items on the daily routine.

PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS

STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today with regard to a package outlining the parameters and process to compensate victims of abuse in three provincially-operated institutions. I am pleased to advise that we now have agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding regarding compensation for victims of institutional abuse.

In December 1994, the government launched an investigation into allegations of abuse in five provincially-operated institutions. The former Chief Justice of New Brunswick, the Honourable Stuart Stratton, headed that review. Six months later, in June 1995, Judge Stratton provided a comprehensive and thorough report that left no doubt former residents of three provincially-operated institutions were victims of abuse. The events that Judge Stratton uncovered were shocking. Since that time, more instances of abuse have come to light. Judge Stratton identified 89 victims. As of today, approximately 350 victims have come forward.

1335

At this time, Mr. Speaker, formally and publicly, I want to apologize to the victims. They were in no way responsible for what happened to them. On a personal level, and on behalf of the Government of Nova Scotia, I want to say sincerely, I am sorry. Also, I will be conveying my apologies to the victims in [Page 1336]

writing. We cannot change the past. We cannot make up for the suffering that has been inflicted but we can help victims to rebuild their lives and their futures.

We have agreed to compensate victims. As honourable members might expect, the range of compensation will vary, depending on the degree of abuse suffered. For example, those who suffered severe sexual and physical abuse, will receive compensation ranging from $100,000 to $120,000. Those who have suffered severe physical abuse will receive up to $60,000. Those who have suffered minor physical abuse will receive up to $5,000. In total, there are 12 different categories for compensation. In order to help victims and their counsel determine which compensation category may be appropriate for their particular circumstances, we have also established guidelines. These benchmarks define the types and frequency of abuse that are indicative of any one category.

Also, we will be providing additional money for counselling. Again, as one might expect, for those who have suffered more severe forms of abuse, more money will be made available for counselling services. We realize that this is an integral part of the healing process. We want to ensure the essential worth and dignity of all who were residents of these institutions is restored.

We are providing a waiver for those who are receiving social assistance. The wounds inflicted so many years ago have hurt people in many ways. Some have found it difficult to work as a result of what happened to them. We must recognize this fact. Therefore the amount of compensation received will not be considered income and will not affect payments under social assistance. Any income which the individual earns in a year, however, whether it is generated from the compensation award or otherwise, will be treated as income. In such cases, the individual may have social assistance reduced or terminated in accordance with applicable standards.

The province has agreed to provide victims with a list of programs available through the Drug Dependency Services Division of the Department of Health. Also, the province will fund the preparation by an independent recorder of a public report of victims' testimonials.

It has always been our belief that the bulk of compensation funds should go to the victims. To that end, we have agreed to pay legal fees and disbursements such as travel expenses. We have agreed to pay legal fees at an hourly rate of $175 per hour for those with 10 years standing at the Bar. Counsel with 5 years to 10 years will receive $150 an hour. Counsel with less than 5 years experience will receive a maximum of $125 an hour. Articled Clerks will receive a maximum of $75 per hour. In addition, up to 10 hours will be payable to counsel for assistance provided to victims in filing claims for compensation. Lawyers have agreed to accept the payment from the province as full settlement of their accounts. They have agreed not to enforce contingency fee arrangements. This ensures that legal fees are not deducted from the compensation awards provided to victims.

Claims for compensation will be settled through a simple and speedy process. It is a balanced approach driven by the victims themselves. Once an individual has filed a claim for compensation, the province must respond within 45 days. The province must either accept, reject or offer a compromise. If the claim is accepted, payment in full must be made within

[Page 1337]

20 days. If the claim is rejected, written reasons must be provided to the victim, a negotiation process will then begin.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the victim may choose to continue negotiations or can submit to a file review. A list of file reviewers has been identified by counsel for the victims. Victims will select the file reviewer for their case from the available list. The province is required to submit its decision to the file reviewer within 20 days. The victim has the option to appear before the reviewer without representation. If that is the option chosen, the victim is the only individual to appear. Should the individual wish to have legal counsel present, then the province is also entitled to appear before the reviewer. The reviewer has 30 days to provide a decision after receiving the provincial submission or 30 days after the victim's appearance.

Mr. Speaker, this is a process driven by the victims. It is a very fair and open process. Victims will have access to their own written statements given to Facts Probe Inc., which is the independent investigation team that has been taking statements from victims throughout this process. They will also have access to their own written statements given to the internal investigation unit. This unit has been looking into the conduct of current employees to ascertain if any disciplinary action is warranted.

Access to any of their personal medical, education, social work or probation files kept or maintained by the institutions regarding the victim also will be provided.

To date, Mr. Speaker, approximately 350 victims have come forward. This number has grown rapidly over the past several months. We can expect the number of victims will continue to climb. To that end, we have budgeted a total of $33.5 million to cover the cost of compensation for victims, including legal fees and services to victims.

In order to clear up this long-standing matter at the earliest possible date, we are placing a time limit on compensation claims. The effective date of this agreement is June 17, 1996. In order to be eligible for compensation, victims must file a claim before December 18, 1996.

This package, Mr. Speaker, is the product of seven meetings which involved negotiating with a core group of 25 lawyers. A great deal of time, effort and hard work by all participants went into completing this agreement. I would like to pay tribute to the professionalism of the lawyers and other professionals representing the victims. I want to personally thank my staff; their dedication, determination and commitment have made this agreement possible. Several have been involved but I would like to make particular mention of Paula Simon, who is leading the project.

Before closing, Mr. Speaker, briefly, I want to advise members of the steps that have been taken to ensure the safety and security of the young offenders currently in our custody.

All staff have been trained regarding new search procedures. A new protocol has been implemented to ensure that youth know whom to contact if abused and how to make such contact through staff or privately. This is explained upon admission and reviewed on a regular basis. Staff at the facilities hold monthly meetings with a randomly selected group of young offenders representing each living unit to discuss issues around daily living at the institution. We have new leadership in place at Shelburne with a new superintendent and a new deputy superintendent. Many more changes have been made. In addition, we will continue to monitor

[Page 1338]

our policies and procedures to ensure the safety and security of the young offenders in our care.

[8:15 a.m.]

In drawing my remarks to a close, I want to acknowledge that we could never undo the harm that has been done. We cannot right past wrongs. We can help the victims, however, to rebuild their lives. It is our sincere hope that those who have suffered now may begin the healing process and may begin to work towards a brighter future. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.

MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, the statement by the Minister of Justice is a most welcome one, a very lengthy one as well. So, one is just seeing it now for the first time and I do not say that, in any way at all, by way of criticism.

There are many complex elements that have been dealt with here in this whole process. I want to start, if I may, by joining with the Minister of Justice in saying that, speaking for myself and I think I can take the liberty this morning of speaking for all of those who were my colleagues during our watch on the government benches, that we join too with the Minister of Justice in extending a sincere and deep apology to those who were victimized during that time, if any of those events, and I know that some of them did, took place during the years when some of us here today on Opposition benches were on the government benches.

Circumstances occurred which just simply should never have occurred, should never have been allowed to occur, and the tragedy that has befallen so many - and it is astounding to hear the Minister of Justice today talk in terms of as many as 350 people - has tremendous impact to say the least. I join him in expressing deep regret and accepting what responsibility those of us should during our time on the watch.

The substance of the agreement, which the minister has described, I want to applaud. I believe, as I listened to the minister and read along the document with him as he made his remarks, it appears that a very serious, legitimate and sensitive approach has been taken to respond, to do those things which, after the trauma inflicted upon so many lives, was inflicted that honest and legitimate attempts are being made now to help those men and women put their lives back together.

The minister has said, and it is so true, that damage having been done, that cannot be turned back. We cannot turn back the calendar. I have had an opportunity, yesterday, actually, to have conversation with a couple of the lawyers who have been engaged in this very difficult process and both of them, who shall remain nameless, commented to me that the approach which was taken by the minister's officials was a fair, open and honest one, and one which clearly, from the beginning, indicated a serious and genuine intention on the part of those representing the government to find a reasonable and rational conclusion, and I really think that the arrangements, which the minister announces today, represent that.

I am not sure that it is possible for any of us without intimate knowledge of the individual cases and circumstances to say here this morning that the range of compensation, which the minister has described, the severe sexual and physical situation, for instance, to range from $100,000 to $120,000, unfortunately in today's economy for people who are not all that old, that is not an awful lot of money, and they have a lot of years to live and that money will have to be used wisely and carefully. Those who have suffered to a lesser degree, with the smaller amounts of money, will have some real difficulty.

I would request, perhaps even on a confidential basis, that the minister might be prepared to share the guidelines which he has mentioned. (Interruption) They will be available? The minister says those will be available. I think it is important, because I expect that some of us will be contacted, as the coming months unfold, by either some of the lawyers representing some of the victims or, indeed, the victims themselves. If we have access to those guidelines which will apply to determine the compensation category into which [Page 1339]

certain individuals would fall, it would be an important part in us playing our role as MLAs to assist if we possibly can. So I am pleased to learn that the minister will make those available.

While we don't know the precise amount of money which is intended to be set aside to provide the additional money for counselling, I am absolutely delighted that the statement says clearly that there will be additional money for counselling. Because I know from some of my work in a previous incarnation that the victims of physical and sexual abuse carry those injuries for all of their days, and many of these people will require counselling for many years, I sincerely hope that the arrangements made - $33 million sounds like a lot of money and it is a lot of money, but for 350-some lives, many of them with many years ahead of them, great amounts of money in much-needed counselling can and undoubtedly will be consumed - that the minister's accounting and setting aside of financial resources for the counselling is adequate and will prove to be adequate.

I want to applaud the fact that the minister says that the amount of compensation will not be considered income and will not affect payments under social assistance. But as I do that, I then have the caveat - and perhaps it is just that my reading is too quick, or my understanding is too incomplete - I find that the minister says, ". . . the amount of compensation received will not be considered income and will not affect payments under social assistance.". But then I flip the page and find that, "Any income which the individual earns in a year, however, whether it is generated from the compensation award or otherwise, will be treated as income. In such cases, the individual may have social assistance reduced or terminated in accordance with applicable standards.". (Interruption) I am not sure if I am finding an inconsistency there. Well, the minister says interest payments. But the statement says social assistance payments as well; that social assistance might be reduced.

So, again, on a day like today and on an issue like this, I do not want to stand and get overly critical, but this, as far as I am concerned, because we are dealing with compensation of victims, should be dealt with, in my view, on the basis as an ex gratia payment which should not, in any way, shape, or form affect the income or lifestyle or financial circumstances to any extent of the men and women who will receive this compensation.

So I am a little bit unhappy, if I can put it that way, to consider the prospect that a couple of years from now a man or woman receiving social assistance, and also having received a certain amount of compensation, would find his or her social assistance circumstances reduced by reason of the fact that a competent investment, for instance, of the compensation amounts that might have generated a little bit of interest, I find that, frankly, takes the edge off the settlement, at least for me, just a little bit.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I think it is important, and I again applaud the fact that the minister indicates that Drug Dependency Services of the Department of Health has also been involved in the process and will be available to provide assistance to the victims. There

[Page 1340]

is no question, and I know from personal contact with one or two of the victims that they are suffering cross-addiction, or double-addiction situations now, and that kind of relief and assistance is important.

I am not going to come anywhere close to making comment as to whether or not the settlements and the amounts decided to be paid to the lawyers is appropriate or not. The lawyers, as we say in my family, are big enough and ugly enough to look after themselves.

MR. SPEAKER: One minute remaining.

MR. DONAHOE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The lawyers, seriously, though, on both sides of the table have clearly done a credible job here. It is clear their interest has been with the victims, and the amounts of compensation or payment to the lawyers seems to be reasonable.

I guess my final comment, Mr. Speaker, would simply be this. There was one other little item that perhaps the minister, not necessarily just this minute but later today, might clarify for me. I had a little concern that there might be a possibility - and I will do this as quickly as I can - that when he described the time-frames within which victims have to file claims and one of the options is that if they wish to be represented, the government side of the table can be represented as well.

I didn't see a time-frame clearly stated within which the government has to respond in the event that one of the victims is represented by counsel. Again, it may be just a misreading on my part. I would hate to think that there is a little glitch here, that if the victim comes forward with counsel, is required to file within a certain time-frame, that the time within which the Crown has to respond is open-ended. I am sorry, I thought I had it marked, I have missed it here. Perhaps later today the minister might help me, walk me through that time-frame, to ensure that we don't have a situation where any victim is unduly or unreasonably dragged on to come to compensation.

On balance, Mr. Speaker, I think the minister and the government and those who effected this result, on both sides, should be applauded. I share his hope that some solace and some integrity to the lives of the victims will be restored, as a result of this settlement. I think it is a very positive and important day for each and every one of them. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the minister for making the announcement in here on the floor of the House. This is, indeed, a very important announcement, it is a very important matter and the minister's announcement covers a whole host and a variety of very complex issues. I am not going to attempt to get into all of that here this morning.

There are certainly many details that are left to be provided that we have not yet had an opportunity to have a look at, but this certainly is and has been a very traumatic event in the lives of literally hundreds of Nova Scotians. I want to personally, on behalf of my caucus, commend the minister, to congratulate the minister for what I believe has been a very humane way in which the government has gone about trying to address these very important issues.

[Page 1341]

One can talk about the level and degree of compensation that is going to be provided. I guess one could start talking about and dividing up the pot of money and be asking the question about how much is suitable. I guess the way I look at it, Mr. Speaker, is that no amount of money can ever compensate those who are the victims of the devastation that has been brought about in their lives and which, unfortunately, will be continuing for many of them, possibly for the rest of their lives.

[8:30 a.m.]

Counselling services, efforts to try to assist people to come to grips with what has happened to them through no fault of their own, I am very pleased to see the apology that was provided by the minister on behalf of the government because it is important that it be recognized that those who were the victims were not the perpetrators or the cause of what happened to them. Very often victims are made to feel responsible for what has happened to them, so I am very pleased to see the minister announce quite clearly and unequivocally that the government apologizes to those individuals and acknowledges that they were not in any way responsible for the actions that happened to them. Certainly no amount of money can compensate them for what has happened in their lives.

Also, the one thing that I will say that I do have a little bit of question with, and that is the time-frame in which people can still come forward to bring claims. I believe the date was the end of December 1996, late December, December 18th. My only concern in that regard, Mr. Speaker, is that very often those who have experienced this kind of trauma in their lives, it is very difficult for them to come to grips with that. It is often very difficult for them to be able to come forward even to seek assistance and maybe even to understand or know why they may be having some difficulties in their lives as a result of a trauma, which they may or may not even consciously remember. My only concern on the basis that I certainly will raise here today, that I do have at all with the announcement, is that time-frame. I am not so sure that we should have a cut-off date upon which somebody can come forward to seek assistance from the government. I am not just talking about the monetary, but the counselling services as well.

So with those few remarks, Mr. Speaker, I want to echo the comments that have been made by the previous speakers and others, and that is to congratulate the minister for the manner in which he has handled this, and all of those individuals - the members of the minister's staff, the representatives of the victims, their lawyers, and the victims themselves -for the way in which they have worked together to try to bring about a resolve. Certainly each and every one of us, whether we were members of government at that time or not, we certainly all would like to add our voices of apology to all of those individuals and their families and all of the lives of those who have been affected, either directly or indirectly, by what has happened for the deeds of the past.

Crucially important, as well, is the very solid commitment that under no circumstances will there be any efforts left unturned to ensure that this kind of behaviour will be tolerated again. We have to ensure that anybody who is in the charge of any provincial institution should ever have to fear that they could be placed in a situation where they could receive such kind of abuse again in the future. So again, Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his announcement and I look forward to receiving the guidelines and further details. (Applause)

[Page 1342]

GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Natural Resources.

RESOLUTION NO. 440

HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Sunday, May 5th, to Saturday, May 11th, has been designated National Forest Week by the Canadian Forestry Association, of which the Nova Scotia Forestry Association is a member; and

Whereas the forests of Nova Scotia contribute more than $1 billion to the economy from the sale of pulp, newsprint and other forest products; provide jobs for approximately 20,000 people; and support hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities; and

Whereas our forests contribute substantially to the quality of life we enjoy in Nova Scotia and also provide habitat for more than 250 species of wildlife;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House endorse and support National Forest Week and congratulate the Canadian and Nova Scotia Forestry Associations for their work over the years in organizing and sponsoring this important event.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable to the House?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

Bill No. 20 - Entitled an Act Respecting the Engineering and Geoscience Professions. (Hon. Jay Abbass as a private member.)

Bill No. 21 - Entitled an Act Respecting the Practice of Architecture. (Hon. Jay Abbass as a private member.)

MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that these bills be read for a second time on a future day.

NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.

[Page 1343]

RESOLUTION NO. 441

MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas many in the legal profession, employees of the Legal Aid Commission and legal aid recipients are awaiting the review committee's report into the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission; and

Whereas individuals within these groups are concerned about the review committee's acceptance of $1 million in cuts to legal aid; and

Whereas these cuts could very well leave many of society's most vulnerable groups, such as the victims of family violence, without any legal recourse;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Justice take the first step in ensuring access to legal representation for those in need by guaranteeing that victims of family violence will not be denied such legal representation.

Mr. Speaker, I would request waiver of notice and passage without debate.

MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable to the House?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 442

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas this government was elected with a mandate to create jobs; and

Whereas since taking office this government has done nothing but destroy public sector jobs while waiting vainly for the market's invisible hand to work its alleged magic; and

Whereas the results of that approach have been so poor that the government is reduced to bragging about 174 low wage enviro-depot jobs as 8,000 other jobs disappear in a single month;

Therefore be it resolved that this House urge the government to finally produce a comprehensive economic development strategy that recognizes the role that a healthy government sector plays in the maintenance and creation of jobs in both public and private sectors.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Waive notice.

[Page 1344]

MR. SPEAKER: I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

RESOLUTION NO. 443

MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Main-à-Dieu native, Mike Forgeron, is vigorously preparing for this summer's Atlanta Olympic Games; and

Whereas Mike Forgeron has already demonstrated his world prowess by winning an Olympic gold medal as a member of Canada's powerhouse eight crew in Barcelona in the summer of 1992; and

Whereas Mike Forgeron is in Duisberg, Germany, over the next couple of weeks participating in the final leg of qualifying heats for the doubles competition at the Atlanta Games;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this Legislature congratulate Mike and his partner, Todd Hallett of Dartmouth, as they participate in the qualifying heats and wish them every success in their attempt at a gold medal.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice, please.

MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Hants West.

RESOLUTION NO. 444

MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations are ending their two day annual meeting in Halifax today; and

Whereas a sound construction safety policy is something government, business and labour must always strive for; and

Whereas over the past year, in 20 locations across the province, the host Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association trained over 10,000 workers, owners and buyers of construction services;

[Page 1345]

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House extend a warm welcome to delegates to the annual meeting and wish them the very best in their deliberations.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

RESOLUTION NO. 445

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the four Liberal Premiers from Atlantic Canada met the Prime Minister this week and cried uncle over the ruinous cuts imposed by their federal cousins in Ottawa; and

Whereas the combined effects of defence cuts, UI changes and the Canada Health and Social Transfer has been devastating to this region and to this province; and

Whereas this week's feeble and behind-closed-doors protest by the Liberal Premiers is a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has been stolen;

Therefore be it resolved that this House implores the Liberal Government to be more attentive to protect the interests of Nova Scotians instead of collaborating through its silence with their comrades in Ottawa who are carrying out their hit-and-run raids on this province.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

RESOLUTION NO. 446

MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Town of Truro will celebrate its cultural diversity by holding a Day of Peace, Unity and Understanding on May 4, 1996; and

Whereas members of 17 ethnic groups from Truro and the Colchester area will be participating in events such as a parade, a concert and a native drumming demonstration; and

Whereas organizers say the event will promote cross-cultural understanding and be an opportunity for individuals and groups to bond at a time when violence and instability are on the rise;

[Page 1346]

Therefore be it resolved that this House commend the Truro organizers of a Day of Peace, Unity and Understanding for their initiative and encourage other communities to participate and even adopt this concept by holding similar celebrations.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable to the House?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

RESOLUTION NO. 447

MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Cape Breton Cable workers have been on strike since January, a total of 103 days; and

Whereas negotiations in this labour dispute are at a standstill; and

Whereas the regulation of cable television operations across Canada is the responsibility of the federal government;

Therefore be it resolved that even though this issue must be settled at the federal level, Nova Scotia's Minister of Labour contact his federal counterpart and urge a resumption in negotiations in this dispute.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable?

I hear some Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Hants West.

RESOLUTION NO. 448

MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas in fiscal 1994-95, the Minister of Finance announced a growth dividend to lower taxes and spur economic investment which he claimed would provide for cumulative tax relief of $300 million over a four year period; and

[Page 1347]

Whereas recent information provided by the Department of Finance shows that over the past two years, his so-called growth dividend amounted to $63 million, almost $23 million of which was identified as a refundable credit for seniors under the seniors Pharmacare Program, even though only $4 million was returned to low income seniors by way of a credit; and

Whereas another $23 million of the so-called $63 million growth dividend included new business service and recreation taxes imposed and later repealed by this Liberal Government;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Finance, who is now making unsubstantiated promises of further tax relief to Nova Scotians, 14 months down the road, explain to Nova Scotians why they should believe him when his claims with respect to tax relief he has provided to date are highly exaggerated, bordering on the preposterous and when he does not include in his calculations all of the new taxes that his government imposed and continues to collect including, increases in provincial sales taxes, motive fuel taxes and a new tax on electricity.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

[8:45 a.m.]

RESOLUTION NO. 449

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Minister of Finance told this House on April 16th and April 17th that he had no signed agreement with the federal government on the harmonization of the GST and the PST; and

Whereas the Minister of Finance has since provided members of this House with a signed harmonization agreement dated April 12th; and

Whereas the Minister of Finance has been unwilling or unable to explain this apparent case of misleading the House;

Therefore be it resolved that, in future, negotiations and discussions about the GST be held in the open and that there be full public hearings before this government enters into any final agreement with the federal government on the harmonization of the GST and the PST.

HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the resolution just proposed to the House, I am not sure that I heard it correctly but it seemed to indicate to me that there was an intentional misleading of the House by the Minister of Finance and I would ask, therefore, that you examine the proposed resolution for validity.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to have you take a look at that. I don't think it says what the minister suggested.

[Page 1348]

MR. SPEAKER: The particular clause in question reads: "Whereas the Minister of Finance has been unwilling or unable to explain this apparent case of misleading the House;". Beauchesne rules out of order the accusation of deliberate or wilful misleading, but this states apparent misleading.

So the motion is allowable and is tabled.

The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

RESOLUTION NO. 450

MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the parents of Fall River's Ash-Lee Consolidated School recently wrote the Premier, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Finance and the member for Bedford-Fall River to express their outrage at yet another delay in the expansion of the Ash-Lee Consolidated School; and (Interruption)

It is great to have the cooperation.

Whereas Ash-Lee Consolidated School has been on the Education Department's construction priority list since 1992 with an expansion due to be completed this year confirmed as late as February 15, 1996; and (Interruption)

Mr. Speaker, I am not saying anything about Centre 200. (Laughter)

Whereas all of the students receive at least part of their education outside the main school building, sometimes children travel five kilometres near railroad tracks and go without proper facilities for gym, music, library and lunch;

Therefore be it resolved that this Savage Government, namely the member for Bedford-Fall River, live up to their commitments and give Fall River students a school that is safe and delivers quality education.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

Are there further notices of motion? If not, that appears to conclude the daily routine. We will now move to Orders of the Day.

ORDERS OF THE DAY

GOVERNMENT BUSINESS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Government Motions.

[Page 1349]

GOVERNMENT MOTIONS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I move that you do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House on Supply unto Her Majesty.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

[8:49 a.m. The House resolved itself into a CWH on Supply with Deputy Speaker Mrs. Francene Cosman in the Chair.]

[12:49 p.m. CWH on Supply rose and the House reconvened. Mr. Speaker, Hon. Paul MacEwan, resumed the Chair.]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The Chairman of the Committee of the Whole House on Supply reports:

THE CLERK: That the committee has met and made some progress and asks leave to sit again.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.

PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 12.

Bill No. 12 - Adoption Information Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Community Services.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to introduce Bill No. 12, An Act to Provide for Adoption Information, for the consideration of the House of Assembly.

The Adoption Information Act will provide a mechanism for individuals separated as a consequence of adoption to become reunited with their birth family members.

The path to the Adoption Information Act began when Parent Finders presented a comprehensive report to the government in 1992. In April 1993, the government appointed a ministerial committee headed by Professor Gwen Fitzgerald. The committee heard and received a large number of submissions, both public and private. There has been a great deal

[Page 1350]

of deliberation since the recommendations of the ministerial committee were completed. Many individuals and organizations have been consulted along the way.

Mr. Speaker, the issues surrounding adoption are both sensitive and complex. This bill offers help to those who have been waiting for a means to contact members of their birth families. Until now in Nova Scotia, there has only been a passive registry where both parties need to independently register their wish for contact. Often people have been forced to search alone or to wait. Now, there will be support and assistance. The legislation will allow and promote searches to be carried out in a sensitive, informed and discreet manner. It is important to note, that searches under the proposed legislation can only be initiated by adult adoptees, birth parents and adult birth siblings.

Mr. Speaker, I would now like to comment on the highlights of the bill. The Adoption Information Act establishes a means whereby adult adoptees, birth parents and adult birth siblings may request that the Director of Child Welfare conduct a discreet inquiry to locate either an adopted person, birth parent or a birth sibling for the purpose of exchanging identifying information. Identifying information will not be released without the consent of the person identified except in compelling medical circumstances. The Director of Child Welfare will facilitate the exchange of information or reunions. Once this legislation is passed, Nova Scotia will join Saskatchewan and British Columbia in having the most open law on disclosure of adoption information in this country. In addition, the bill establishes in law the existing passive adoption registry. That is more formalization of that particular registry than we currently have.

The bill contains special provisions to allow information to be released to settle estates, to establish native birthright under the Indian Act, to prevent child abuse and to assist with health matters. An Appeal Committee, chaired by a Family Court judge, will decide cases when an individual does not accept the director's ruling. The bill provides that the advisory committee established under the Children and Family Services Act will be able to make recommendations to the minister in respect of this Act. This bill will come into effect on January 1, 1997 or such earlier date as the Governor in Council may proclaim.

Mr. Speaker, critics of this bill may say that it does not go far enough towards openness in adoption records. Others will feel that it goes too far. I firmly believe that it strikes a balance between openness and the right to privacy.

Finally, I would like to thank those individuals and organizations who contributed to this bill: the Adoptive Parent Association of Nova Scotia, Parent Finders, the Mi'Kmaq Family and Children's Services and representatives of the Black communities of Nova Scotia. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand today to talk about the Adoption Information Act, Bill No. 12. As the minister has stated in his opening statements, it is an issue that has many different views of how it should be handled. Again we stand and we talk about an issue that is very emotional when we talk about issues involving people, adoptions and birth parents. It is an issue that every Nova Scotian family has been touched with either by adoption or knowing someone that has been adopted. It is not an issue that is strange or foreign to the people of the Province of Nova Scotia.

[Page 1351]

Some people will say that the bill doesn't go far enough. There are others that say it goes too far. One thing that I am sure of is that we have to move forward and we have to move slowly. It is similar to learning how to walk. One must first crawl, then walk and then run. Mike Slayter of Parent Finders was quoted as saying that this was a giant step forward. He is quite pleased with where we are at but he is sure that the trip isn't over and we haven't gone far enough.

The task force found that the majority feeling was more openness of the Adoption Act and the adoption information. There will be some that will be very supportive toward a move of more openness but there are others that will not be that happy. For example, some birth parents will be afraid but they will be afraid for themselves, more than for the adoptees. Those are issues that we cannot stand in judgment of.

There is a committee established under the Children and Family Services Act that reviews its legislation. I believe and would put forward to the minister that a similar committee should be struck under this legislation to review this legislation and report back to the appropriate minister, say every 18 or 24 months, so that people will have an idea if the process that is being put forward is working.

It is incumbent on us to make sure that every effort is put forward to be sure that we are not just putting pieces of paper through the House but that it is actually doing the job it was designed to do. By having a committee to review the structures that have been put in place coming back and reporting, we will then be able to put forward whether or not this has been an accurate and useful piece of legislation.

There is a lot left up to the regulations. Of course, that begs the question, who will be developing these regulations? How will they come into effect? What people will be involved in that process? Will there be public input and will groups such as Parent Finders have some input into this type of an issue? As we know, the legislation is one thing but the regulations are what drives the whole issue.

The director also under this legislation has a lot of power. As much of this is objective, maybe we would be better off if some of these decisions were made by a committee, rather than by just the director. The reason I would suggest that is because therefore we would have some checks and balances in the final decision. There is an old saying that many minds make a job easier. I think in this case when we are talking about an issue like this, it is good to get a comprehensive viewpoint of what is going on.

There is also in this legislation a provision for appeal. That is important and it is a useful piece of the legislation. But it says in the legislation that this appeal process must be written. As I said earlier, this is a very emotional issue and as in a lot of emotional issues, it is very hard to sit down and write everything out on paper. Sometimes people can speak better and put forward a better case if they can do it from the heart and speak to the people that are involved, rather than sitting down and writing it out. A lot of times some of the translation gets lost and people do not get the whole gist of what people are trying to say.

I really believe and I would suggest to the minister that we have to put forward a provision that would allow for an oral hearing in this case. An oral hearing would give some people the chance to let their true feelings be known.

[Page 1352]

[1:00 p.m.]

There are many others who have viewed and looked at this piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker. We get to the area of the fees. There are some who say that the fees will be a stumbling block for some because in many cases $50 might as well be $50,000; it is just not in the realm of possibility for some people. As things progress, things get a lot harder and the stresses that are put on an individual are not the type of thing that we want to be dealing with when we are dealing with this piece of legislation.

I know there are many issues that have come forward with this piece of legislation. As I said earlier, I am aware of many people who have worked a long time to make this happen, and there are still a lot of questions that go unanswered. I look forward to our time in the Law Amendments Committee when people who are more informed on these issues than I am are going to bring forward some of their concerns and ideas, and I am sure the minister is just as excited about hearing what is going to take place in the Law Amendments Committee. At that time there will probably be some very good ideas generated that will help to improve the quality of the legislation, as well as the quality of life for the people who are seeking to find out who they are and where they have come from.

With those few words, Mr. Speaker, I will be sitting down, but I will be voting in favour of this piece of legislation, and I look forward to hearing from the minister at a later date.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak for a few moments on this bill, An Act to Provide for Adoption Information.

There has been a lot of work put into trying to bring the whole maintenance and use of adoption records in the Province of Nova Scotia into the 20th Century. The minister appointed an advisory committee, back in 1993, I believe, and that committee was appointed for the sole purpose of reporting back to him on the consensus of the adoption community. There were representatives on there of adult adoptees, birth parents, people involved in the community, people who have handled, through agencies, both private and public, adoptions. They spent some considerable number of months and some considerable time making recommendations to the minister that would serve as the basis for a new piece of legislation.

There are some members of that committee who are somewhat disappointed that the minister decided not to support some of the key recommendations brought forward as consensus positions by that committee. A primary recommendation of that committee was that adult adoptees and birth parents should be entitled to identifying information, and that a contact veto register be administered for those members of the adoption community who did not want to be contacted by searching birth family members.

The report also contained a recommendation whereby the release of identifying information could, in fact, be rescinded by the minister or his delegate, upon request by a party to whom the information was being sought, the condition being that the party was to provide appropriate documentation from a medical doctor, or equal, who could verify that the release of information was likely to cause sufficient trauma or would otherwise be of a damaging nature to the party.

[Page 1353]

Some people in the community I have spoken to feel that the bill, in fact, falls somewhat short of achieving that goal. My understanding is that it was determined that such contact vetoes were very much a part of good, solid progressive legislation under the rules for handling adoptions and that very rarely did the cases occur that contact vetoes would be violated.

I understand, I think, that the reason the minister pulled back from moving to that extent was because of fears of birth parents who did not want information released to an adult adoptee who was looking for their birth parent or birth parents, Mr. Speaker. But I understand, though, that the bill, even as it stands, provides an opportunity for that information to be withheld and it is unfortunate that it was not, I think, approached in the manner recommended by the committee so that the onus would be on the birth parent to file with the contact veto register that they clearly did not want that information made available instead of just preventing the adult adoptee to have access to that information.

I think it is important that we clarify who we are talking about here when we talk about adoptees. We are talking about adult adoptees, Mr. Speaker, we are not talking about children, we are talking about adults. There are a couple of places in the bill where, for instance, the adult adoptee needs to get the permission of their adoptive parents in order to, no, that's not it. Let me see if I can find it here. Anyway, there is one section in here where in order to have the information made available there has to be permission granted by the adoptee's parent, I believe. The question is, I think, that a definition should be in there, it should be adult adoptee wherever it says adoptee because that is who, in fact, we are referring to. Clearly, if someone has reached the age of majority, then they should not be restricted or should not have to refer to their parent.

I have it here in the bill, Mr. Speaker, if you will just bear with me for a moment. It is Clause 10. The suggestion there is that, Clause 10(1)(a), where it says, "an adopted person;", it should say an adult adoptee and then when you get down to Clause 10(1)(e), "a birth sibling, with the written consent of a birth parent;", or Clause 10(1)(f), "a relative of an adopted person, with the written consent of the adopted person;", the question is, if it is an adult adoptee, someone who has reached the age of majority, then they should not be required to receive parental consent.

There are a few other areas in here, things like the authority provided throughout to the director, Mr. Speaker. The question there is whether in fact it is appropriate that the director should be given that kind of discretionary power over people's lives; "in the opinion of the Director," is something that is in a number of clauses and that should be more clearly specified and/or restricted.

I guess one question relating to that is, when would we hope to see the regulations? I think we would all be interested in seeing some of those specifics, Mr. Speaker.

I guess I will be supporting the legislation. I will be voting in favour of it and recommend that to my colleague, that it go forward to the Law Amendments Committee for further consideration. I do believe and many points in here have been brought to my attention, ways to perhaps strengthen the legislation, and to clarify. For example, under Clause 3(s), "non-identifying information", to be more specific as to what we are talking about here because if not, then we are leaving it up to, again that clause, "in the opinion of the Director,". We have to make sure that through drafting, we prevent any possibility of bias or discrimination setting in under the determination of "in the opinion of the Director,".

There are a number of other points throughout this bill. I have raised a couple of them that I think need to be addressed. I think it has been accepted by many in the community that this is a step forward. I think that we had some considerable distance to go on the whole issue of how we deal with the rights of adult adoptees in the Province of Nova Scotia, and I think we have begun moving down that road. We didn't perhaps handle the whole question of access in as positive a way on behalf of the adult adoptees as I would have liked and as others would have liked, but perhaps we will be able to address this in some more detail when we reach the Law Amendments Committee stage. Nonetheless, Mr. Speaker, clearly it is a step forward, but that whole question of the rights of adult adoptees to have that kind of critical information, as [Page 1354]

it forms an important part of their being, an important part of them as a whole person, I think has to be recognized.

I am somewhat concerned. I will defer, of course, to the people who have spent more time in this area in reviewing the legislation and having made initial recommendations, but I am somewhat concerned by what appears to be almost a bit of a paternalistic attitude in some sections of this bill but, nonetheless, we will deal with that in a little more detail at Law Amendments Committee. Again, suffice it to say that we have come some distance, but I wish the minister would have held firm on the recommendation by his own committee and gone forward with the contact veto register as the vehicle to protect those birth parents who didn't want identifying information released, and dealt with it that way because that clearly would have been more in the favour and more recognizing of the rights of the adult adoptees, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I indicate that I will be supporting this legislation going on to Law Amendments Committee and I will recommend that my colleague does also. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.

MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to speak to the bill that the minister has before the House. I want to say, as have my colleagues who spoke in advance of me this afternoon, that I welcome the bill. I think it is a very good, a very important, a very progressive, and a very substantial first step toward a conclusion that I hope we will someday, in the not too far future, be able to reach.

I think it is very important that each of us, as legislators, and all Nova Scotians who have an interest in this great and important matter which is before us this afternoon, ensure that we do not lose the momentum which has been created as a result of getting us to the point that we have achieved today. Momentum, once lost, is difficult to regain. Each of us who has spent some time in public life will understand that perhaps even better than some of those who have not had the joy and the responsibility of representing people across this province. We know that the inertia of government - I am not, of course, speaking of political Parties -can cause matters to stall. I think it is absolutely essential, with respect to this legislation, that we not go into stall but that we continue actively to seek ways to move us forward with respect to people being able to identify their birth parents.

[1:15 p.m.]

About two weeks ago, the Minister of the Technology and Science Secretariat and I had the pleasure of joining with probably 100 others on Brunswick Street when the financial campaign to restore the Little Dutch Church was inaugurated. One of the people who was there was Terry Punch. Now many members of the House, and many Nova Scotians, will know Terry and the very fine work that he has done as a genealogist here in Nova Scotia.

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Terry is frequently heard on CBC Radio, providing genealogical advice to all kinds of people who are interested in finding out more about their families because finding out about their families helps them to find out more about themselves. It helps them to understand themselves better.

We are all kind of a genetic soup and none of our genes were created independent of those who created us so the more we know about our families, the better we have the capacity to understand why we are the way we are, why we are who we are, why we do the kinds of things that we do. I will come to an example of that in a few moments.

I am one of probably thousands of Nova Scotians who takes an interest in what my forbears have done. Some people find that very boring, I guess, with respect to their own families; not with respect to mine, I would hope. (Laughter) Of course, what one must understand as one delves into one's family, one has to be prepared to accept the bad with the good. There are all kinds of skeletons in every family closet. But nonetheless, I think for those who are interested in their forbears, it helps those people to be more whole to understand themselves better if they can delve into their family's past.

I, as a schoolteacher and as a person living in a small community, indeed as anybody in this Chamber, have known a number of people who were adopted at birth and who have never known either of their birth parents. So if they have an interest in family, unlike many of us who can turn around and look at our family's past and go back not one, not two, but many generations and know who our antecedents were, know what they did, know where they lived, these people turn around and they are facing a blank wall, a wall that has no measurements, a wall that has no character, except that with respect to their vision into their past, it is impenetrable. They know nothing from whence they came.

Let's each of us think of our own life experience in those terms and try - although we never can achieve it fully - to put ourselves in their shoes and walk in those shoes, turning occasionally and looking over our shoulders into the past that is not there. It is not there for them because it is concealed from them, not through any fault of their own, but as the result of circumstances over which they have and had absolutely no control whatsoever. I know in my own case I believe that would cause a terrible void in my life. I have to believe that it must cause a terrible void in the lives of many men and women in Nova Scotia who every living moment of their lives when they turn around face that blank wall.

The bill does make one very important provision respecting forcing the issue. That is with respect to medical factors. I am very pleased that the minister has ensured that there is a greater possibility of the curtain being lifted in the event that evidence is brought forward which clearly establishes that there may be medical information which an adopted child should have available to him or her in order to deal with any illness that they may encounter.

I am not surprised, of course, that this is here because the very minister who sponsors the bill is himself a medical practitioner and I am sure on many occasions through his family medicine practice has had just that very kind of experience and has had to assume that the difficulty may be genetic but has nothing more than an assumption to base it on and therefore, although a person with an exceptional ability with respect to healing, finds himself with one of the most basic tools unavailable to him because he can't get to the family background to understand better the needs of the patient whom he hopes to treat and to help to make whole. So that is a very important, vital factor and I am very pleased to see it here.

The bill deals with the physical side of any illnesses that we may suffer but it does not deal as specifically and as aggressively with the psychological damage that may be inflicted on a person who is not able to define family with respect to those who came before them. I think there must be a heavy psychological price to pay for many of these people who have been adopted with respect to them not knowing that. Psychological damage and psychological considerations are much more difficult to define, I suppose, than physical ones. I have to believe that they are there and I say that as the result of listening to a number of young men and young women who are adopted and who do feel to be less of a whole person than those who are able to identify their families.

[Page 1356]

I think of two cases in particular, one a constituent. This young lady wrote to me some time ago looking forward to this legislation and with her permission I shared that letter with the minister. I wrote quite a long letter to the minister supporting the letter that she had written respecting this kind of legislation. This young lady is as nice a person as anybody could ever want to meet. Were she my daughter, I would certainly want to know about her. In fact, I would say that her birth parent or birth parents, through not knowing her, are causing themselves to be bereft of an experience in their lives that they cannot make up for no matter how hard they may believe that it is possible for them to do.

She and her fiance are being married this summer. They had hoped to be married a little earlier and the reason that the marriage was put off is because she was trying so hard to find her birth mother because she so desperately wanted her birth mother to be with her at her wedding. She has run into the curtain of which I spoke a few moments ago. She now knows that she may be the rest of her life never finding out, never discovering, never knowing, never meeting, never being able to share her love with the mother that she has missed all of these years since she was adopted as an infant. So, she and her fiance have set a date and they will be married this summer but I know that this young woman will be very much aware that there will be somebody vitally important to her life who will not be standing beside her at the time of her marriage. I find that just incredibly sad.

Another case, again a young woman who is very close to our family, was adopted. She was able to find out who her birth mother was and she said to my daughter, Sarah - they are good friends - Mom and Dad are the ones who brought me up, my adoptive parents. She said, I will always think of them in that context but she said, I want to know why I am the way I am. Why do I do some things kind of funny, different than other people and I think I can come to understand that better if I can learn who my birth mother was and meet her. In fact, that story has a happy ending to it because this young woman did meet her birth mother and they have, I think, a very good relationship. It is not a close and tender relationship but they know each other and they are fully satisfied with the relationship that they have developed. So that is a happier story than the first one, at least the first one to date.

I want to give the minister encouragement to move into a wider context with respect to the way in which this legislation will allow a government to assist persons in finding out who they are. I hope that when this bill comes to the Law Amendments Committee that we will have some very interesting presentations which may cause the Law Amendments Committee to be able to sit down with the minister and discuss whether there might be some changes made in the legislation which will allow us to move a little bit further along the road before this bill leaves the House and becomes law.

I, too, would like to see a context which is wider than a decision taken by the director. If I were the director, I would not want to have to be charged with the responsibility of exercising that discretion as a sole determinant. I would very much want to have the

[Page 1357]

opportunity to discuss all of the aspects of each case, based on its own merits, with colleagues so that I could be absolutely sure that I am making the right decision within the context of that larger discussion.

I also think because we are talking about legislation which very much dips into human emotions, the most basic human emotion of all, that which is attached to the sense of family, that it is important that we not deal with these kinds of decisions in a clinical fashion. I think there is good, sound reason for people to be able to be involved in this process on a face to face basis. I hope we may be able to achieve that possibility before this bill leaves the House at the end of third reading.

[1:30 p.m.]

The bill, and we see the word in it, is essentially passivist in nature. I would like to see us move forward, if it is not possible in this bill, some day in the not too far distant future, in an amendment to it into a much more activist role whereby it becomes the function of those who are responsible for administering the Act to move out actively, to try to bring the bits and pieces of shattered families back together.

It is all too easy, I think, for someone to get a phone call or get a letter in the mail and be asked, do you want this information to be made available, to stand back and say, no, I don't. I think that there would be a much greater potential for consideration by those who have given up a child for adoption if, in fact, the human emotive side, in an appropriate way, were to be part of the discussion and that those who were trained to work in this very interesting field would have the opportunity to try to bring people together. I think it is very important that we move away from passivism towards activism. I suspect we may hear something of that when the bill comes before the Law Amendments Committee.

Each and every one of us in our society is and must be held accountable for his own decisions. We must be held responsible; we must hold ourselves responsible. In that context I have asked myself this question, and it is the answer that I found to this rhetorical question which has caused me to move a long way from where I used to be with respect to this matter, to where I find myself today. The question is simple and straightforward, was there ever a child born into this world who asked to receive that privilege? The answer clearly is no, no child ever asked to be born but I believe that every child should have the right, somebody else or other persons having taken the decision which caused them to be born, to be able to know who those people were.

So I firmly believe that in the final analysis, when all else is said and done, that those who are seeking to learn who their birth parents are, have a right to that knowledge which should not be denied them on the basis of less important considerations. None of us asked to be here; each of us has a right to know who it was who brought us into this world.

Madam Speaker, I hope it is clear to all of my colleagues that I will be voting in favour of this bill on second reading. I hope that the minister and the government will take as broad a view as possible of the representations that are made in the Law Amendments Committee on the assumption that those representations may urge us as legislators to move further ahead than the bill provides to date, that we will see that happen and that we will see us move aggressively into the future, a future where no Nova Scotian will ever again be forced to face the reality of turning around and looking behind them to see from whence they have come and to find nothing to look at but a blank wall.

[Page 1358]

MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.

MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, my compliments, if I may, to my colleague, the member for Queens, who I think has said in a very effective and, may I say, provocative, in the best sense of the word, fashion what over time I, too, have come to believe relative to the sensitive and complex issues which are addressed here in Bill No. 12. I don't know that I can put it better than my colleague from Queens did as he concluded. It is a fact, there is not one of us here who had a hand in the decision which resulted in us being here.

In my years before engaging in the political process, Madam Speaker, and perhaps I have made reference to this too frequently in this House and for some members it might be coming to be a little bit tedious, that risk notwithstanding, in my time practising law prior to coming to this place, I practised family law for about 12 years. For the last five years of that 12, my practice was almost exclusively in the field of child abuse work. I acted across the province for a number of Children's Aid Societies and for the Administrator of Family and Child Welfare. I guess all of us are creatures of our experience, our environment and our background. Those 12 years, and in particular the last five of those 12 years, have seared indelibly into me some thoughts about violence and abuse of children, about domestic violence and about those issues which tear people and families apart.

During those five years, I can say to you, Madam Speaker, and to colleagues, without any question, it would probably occur not less frequently - from memory - than once every month that I would be engaged in dealing and counselling and, indeed, on occasion sometimes opposing as counsel on the opposite side, with families where one or more of the children involved in those families was an adopted child. In some of those cases, some of those adopted children were not of terribly tender years. They were young men and women who had not yet attained the age of majority in most cases, but were young men and women who, notwithstanding the fact that in so many of the situations with which I dealt, were the unfortunate victims of heinous crimes and abuse perpetrated against them. In the course of conversation with those young people, very often the discussion would turn to exactly the place where the member for Queens asked us to think about just a few moments ago.

As long as I live, I will remember some discussions with young people who, sometimes not in a terribly articulate way but almost invariably in a terribly emotional and powerful way, would make comments and representations and observations and pleas about the circumstances in which they found themselves, but more important, and in the context of the bill we address today, would virtually be crying out for help to find their birth parents to determine whether or not there were birth siblings to, in essence, come to an understanding of who they really are.

Each and every one of us in this place, probably even since this most recent session has opened, has had occasion to, particularly when we are talking about education issues and when we are talking about the future of our province and we are talking about the need for education and training, and that is one of the routes and roads to economic development and prosperity and the creation of new wealth and so on, isn't it interesting how frequently in those discussions we talk about the self-worth of the family, of the individuals who make up any given family unit?

I would ask you, Madam Speaker, and all colleagues to think about what is the most fundamental, essential, basic, elemental aspect of any of us here in this place, or any Nova Scotian, coming anywhere close to developing a sense of self-worth. I can tell you from some of the personal experiences to which I made the brief allusion a moment ago, and I know from

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other circumstances that knowing who I am, knowing where I come from, knowing who my parents are, knowing if I have brothers and sisters, knowing all of those things are, I suggest, essential elements of finding what we all try to make high-sounding speeches about here and elsewhere, we must ensure that we do everything possible to move all Nova Scotians to the point where they have a confidence in themselves and they have a deep-seated sense of self-worth.

What can be more fundamental about having a sense of self-worth than knowing whence one has come. It is a fundamental, a human, a spiritual, and a visceral yearning to know which boils in so many who are in circumstances upon learning of the fact that they are living with adoptive parents and are not in the company of, and do not have the knowledge of their birth parents. It is sometimes a visceral and, indeed, a debilitating situation for them not to have that information.

I believe, as has already been said here today, that the bill which we have before us -and the minister pointed out if my notes are correct, that if this bill passes in its present form, I think the minister indicated to us that we would be in the company of Saskatchewan and British Columbia as having, I think his words were, the most open law of this kind in the country. Well, I don't take that lightly and I know from some previous experiences governmentally that this whole field of moving in the area of adoption information sharing is a difficult question, it is a question which raises very strong points of view pro and con.

[1:45 p.m.]

Before I go any further, I want to say, as has already been said and I say it sincerely, that our Minister of Community Services should be applauded and I do applaud him for coming to the House with this bill. I think there are elements of it, and I am not going to get into a lot of detail at this point because I hope to have an opportunity to make some observations through the Law Amendments Committee stage, but I do honestly believe there are ways in which the bill can and should be strengthened.

I think the minister can take great satisfaction, and reference has already been made to it, that he was insightful enough to include in the legislation references which make it possible for certain medical information to be made available and provisions which bear on that essential element of the lives of the people - I almost said young people, but in many cases not so young people - whom we hope to serve by this piece of legislation, will be advanced by that reality. There is no question that in today's environment information about one's medical history and the genetics and all of the things which the good doctor himself, the minister, knows so much more about than I, and other doctors who are member colleagues here, could tell us about the provisions about one's medical history can be either life-threatening or life-saving, depending on your point of view. That is vitally important information.

I note in the legislation that there is a provision, Madam Speaker, and I promise you I am not going to get into clause by clause because that is not the stage of our proceedings here this afternoon but I notice and I am pleased that it is there. In Clause 31 there is reference to the advisory committee which already exists under Section 88 of the Children and Family Services Act.

I think it is a very interesting and important provision, this legislation says, in effect, that that committee shall have, in addition to its responsibilities under the other legislation, functions or responsibilities here to, Clause 31, ". . . annually review the provisions . . ." of the

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legislation we debate today. The language of the bill indicates that that committee would, Clause 31, ". . . report annually to the Minister concerning . . ." this legislation, the adoption information legislation, ". . . and services and whether the principles and purpose of this Act are being achieved.".

The only comment I would like to make by way of public policy, as opposed to draftsmanship, in relation to that issue, if I may, Madam Speaker, to the minister through you, is to ask him to seriously consider whether or not, as we move through the various stages of further consideration of this bill, whether or not the minister would be prepared to add some language which would enshrine a further public policy, namely that there be an obligation on the minister of the day to table or, in some way, make public the essential elements of the report of the committee which is, in fact, established and enshrined, set out, provided for, whatever the right words are, in Clause 31.

I am not, for a minute, suggesting that this particular minister or any future Minister of Community Services would receive a report pursuant to that section and jealously guard it and hide it and not let it see the light of day. As he knows, and he alluded to it in his own remarks moving second reading here and other members have commented as well, because this issue is as fundamental to the life and the being of those who are affected by the circumstances of adoption, I think it is important that there is a public policy mechanism or process whereby that committee which reviews the operations of the Act, the regulations and the services provided in the framework of the Act and the regulations, should see the light of day annually and should not simply be left to be filed on the minister's desk - again, I don't say this critically or cynically - but, who knows, ever to see the light of day again.

So I would ask the minister as he considers this over the weekend and as we move to Law Amendments Committee stage if he would consider language that might make it possible for such a report to be tabled here in this place or in some other fashion be made public so that we really do know whether the legislation is doing what we hope it will, that the regulations are appropriate, that the services to support the Act and the regulations are up to the task. I consider that a very important and fundamental issue.

The comment has already been made, and I want to underscore it; I don't really want to be overly repetitious at this late hour, but I do think the point is worthy of repetition or at least being underscored. If you read the legislation, as I know you have, Madam Speaker, you will find that the director appointed under this legislation has very, very extensive powers. Again, I don't know, today, as I stand here, and perhaps the minister as he is in his place today knows the individual who will be the director in that position if, as and when this legislation passes, but that is not really the issue for me today. The issue is that whether we like to think sometimes some of us can be pretty smart, the truth is, there isn't anybody who is omniscient and there isn't anybody who is not capable of or on occasion prone to an inappropriate decision or set of decisions; not prone to, on occasion, creating likes and dislikes.

I think my mind goes back, as I use those words, again to circumstances which I experienced in the Family Court many times when social workers, very able professionals all with whom I dealt, got into situations where they were dealing with families is crisis and families in trouble. What I am going to say is not intended as a criticism of social workers or any individual social worker but it is a statement of my observation of what I think the human condition is. Very often we find that people like social workers dealing with families in crisis and dealing from the vantage point of attempting to bring to that family the most positive and effective and helpful service that they possibly can, find that by virtue of the kind of treatment they themselves received from some member or members of that family, they can become - what is the right expression - offended, annoyed, frustrated and, frankly, sometimes darn mad with the way in which some individuals in some of the families with whom they are trying to deal are dealing with them.

As I look across and see a couple of physicians, I wouldn't be surprised that on occasion, the medical community, or some members have trouble, pinching themselves on occasion and remembering the Hippocratic oath and doing the very best they can by reason of the fact that, again, because the human condition is what it is, some patients being dealt with by physicians are dealing with the physicians in such [Page 1361]

a way as to make the human physician have a very difficult time feeling the sense of commitment and compassion to that patient.

Forgive me for perhaps taking more time and perhaps not being too eloquent on that particular issue, Madam Speaker, but I have seen it happen, and I don't want to see it happen here if we can avoid it. I have seen it happen that people such as the director, who would have the very extensive authorities available to him or her under this legislation, encounter situations where he or she, not out of malice, but, again, by reason of the fact that the human condition is the way it is, might not deal as effectively, compassionately and as fulsomely as possible, or as we would like, with those seeking his or her services, or seeking from him or her a positive decision.

Therefore, I support, Madam Speaker, the thoughts and the sentiments offered by my colleague, the member for Queens, that the scope, the role, the function, and the opportunity for the director appointed here under this legislation should, if we can find the right processes and, at the same time, find the right controls, perhaps be expanded so that that director, whomever he or she may be, can have access to additional resource personnel and information and not perhaps have to bear alone, solely, the decision-making process because some of the decisions will, having to be made by a director by himself or herself, be very lonely decisions and very difficult decisions and, I say frankly, perhaps not always the right decisions without there being some clear legislative or regulatory language which enables that director to have a broader base of information and input.

That policy position I would suggest to the minister is, from my vantage point at least, one which is worth having a look at.

Madam Speaker, I have a few other remarks which I would like to make. In light of the hour, however, perhaps if it would be appropriate, I might adjourn debate at the moment on second reading of Bill No. 12 and look forward to the opportunity to make further remarks on a subsequent day.

MADAM SPEAKER: The motion is to adjourn the debate.

The motion is carried.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RICHARD MANN: Madam Speaker, before we adjourn the House, I would advise members that, on Monday, we will sit from the hours of 2:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Following the daily routine, we will be going into a Committee of the Whole House on Supply, dealing with the Education Minister's Estimates in the Chamber and the Finance Minister's

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in the Subcommittee. Following that, we will be going to Public Bills for Second Reading, starting off with the Financial Measures (1996) Act.

I move we adjourn until 2:00 p.m. on Monday.

MADAM SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

[The House rose at 2:00 p.m.]