HALIFAX, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2017
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Chuck Porter
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I now call the Committee of the Whole on Supply to order.
We will continue the Estimates of the Department of Justice.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CLAUDIA CHENDER: I would like to start by thanking the minister and the department for being here and answering questions. The Department of Justice and all of the various areas within its purview are a huge, huge part of the function of government, which I understand as well as anyone. I think yesterday we heard that there are 1,600 staff working in some way for the department. To those who are here and those who are sitting by their BlackBerrys waiting for a message, I thank everyone for their time and patience as we try to understand this budget and a little bit more about the workings of the department.
First, I have some general questions. In this year’s budget, we see a reduction in funding to the Provincial Courts of about $500,000 from last year’s actual, as well as a funding reduction for the Supreme Courts of about $110,000. I’m wondering if there’s anything the minister could tell us about that, especially given the current delays in cases proceeding to trial and the high number of people on remand, which I’ll ask about later. I was surprised to see a reduction in funding to the courts and I would love to hear any comments on that.
HON. MARK FUREY: What has actually happened is a movement of funds from one cost centre to another but no actual reduction in the budget for either the provincial or the Supreme Court.
MS. CHENDER: Could you say a little bit more about from which cost centre to which other cost centre, please?
MR. FUREY: When we look at the budget itself, we’re seeing a $2.65 million increase to court services. The specifics of the cost centres, where the money was moved, we don’t have that information available with us, but we can confirm that information and ensure that it’s provided to my colleague.
MS. CHENDER: As I said, my concern when I saw that budget line was essentially around court services, so any clarity in that area would be appreciated.
Under Programs and Services, there’s a reduction in funding to a number of budget lines. To take one, in terms of crime prevention, we see a reduction in funding of $237,000 from last year’s Spring estimate. I’m wondering if the minister could explain why there are fewer funds flowing to this important area.
MR. FUREY: The specific budget line that my colleague is referencing is actually the CeaseFire program here in Halifax, which was federally funded. The money was originally cut by the federal government but we have been assured that that money is being reinstated.
MS. CHENDER: Just to clarify, I have a couple of questions arising from that. So federal funding was appearing as - I’m assuming the federal funding flowed through the Department of Justice and then to CeaseFire? I’m getting nods but if we could just confirm that that is, in fact, the case. So, it may come back, but we don’t know - if you could just say that again because I didn’t quite understand.
I guess my second question is, are there other budget lines here that are essentially showing us a flow-through of federal funds into provincial programming or other areas?
MR. FUREY: When we receive federal money specific to Justice initiatives, those monies come into - I should say we have the expense in Justice and the revenues go into general revenue. So, there is no gross reflection in the Department of Justice; the expenses incurred here and the flow-through comes through general revenues.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you, that’s very helpful. Again, just to clarify, the reduction in funding for crime prevention reflects that that CeaseFire funding has been cut by the feds, but did I hear you say there’s some expectation that it may be reinstated or that it may come back?
MR. FUREY: That’s correct, yes.
MS. CHENDER: I’d like to ask the minister about the reduction in funding for the CyberSCAN Unit. We see a reduction of about $80,000 from last year’s Spring estimate. I also note that that budget line came in at about $250,000 under budget last year.
We’ve just attended a bill briefing for a bill I’ll be speaking to later tonight, about the great work that the CyberSCAN Unit has been doing. One of the things we were in fact struck by is how much work that unit does. They do all this education, they are out in the community and, as we know, it’s very important work and work that may necessarily constitutionally be somewhat curtailed by the new legislation that’s coming in.
I’m just wondering if you can speak to why that budget was underspent, why it is now being reduced and, additionally, any details about that unit and what they are doing and whether or not they have the resources to do that work.
MR. FUREY: There are two elements to the response. There was a decrease in some of the travel expenses incurred. Once the legislation was struck down, the cyber team weren’t able to do the investigative elements that they had been doing previously. So, there’s some decrease there in expenses.
The other element is there was a particular full-time position moved to the policy shop, the transfer of one resource to policy, and that accounts for the monies that my colleague referenced.
MS. CHENDER: The budget line for other policing services has similarly been reduced by about $265,000 from last year’s actual. I don’t know what other policing services are, so if the minister could just tell us what that line includes and why it has seen such a significant reduction in funding.
MR. FUREY: The decrease that my colleague is referencing is actually a decrease in the cost of the service from $988,000 to $724,000, and that was with some cost savings. What we do know is that those costs will go back up to that amount in the next fiscal year, back to the original amount budgeted. I should also say, Mr. Chairman, that those monies are fully recoverable through the municipality because of the arrangement made around DNA. This is the area within the laboratories that we’re talking about, DNA services.
MS. CHENDER: I began by saying I don’t actually know what other policing services are - could you just give me a quick definition and what those are?
MR. FUREY: My apologies. I’m assuming, given my familiarity with the environment, so please be patient. In these circumstances, the other policing services that my colleague is speaking to are DNA services. DNA services are provided through the biological casework analysis agreement with municipalities. That’s where the monies we speak about are recoverable.
MS. CHENDER: I guess again to go back to understanding how the accounting works here in this budget, when those are recoverable, I’m assuming based on our previous conversation, they go back into general revenue, is that correct?
MR. FUREY: Yes, that’s correct.
MS. CHENDER: Now I would like to ask a few more questions about cannabis. I know that that file falls most squarely on the shoulders of this department. To begin with, of course, I am sure that your department is focusing on the training of law enforcement officers as we look to legalization in the next fiscal year. Can you comment and give me any details that you have available on what work is underway to train law enforcement officers, and where I might see that in this budget?
MR. FUREY: This is a very important element that my colleague has identified. The road safety piece to cannabis legislation is a concern to all of the provinces and territories. We’ve had this discussion at the federal level.
In Nova Scotia, as we speak, Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP in the integrated service model here in the HRM are involved in a pilot project using the saliva swabs that are deemed to potentially be a recognized method to identify the levels of cannabis content in one’s system. We’re pleased that Halifax, that Nova Scotia, is part of that pilot project.
I would also share with my colleague that in Nova Scotia and across Canada, the Drug Recognition Experts program - often referred to as DRE - is a training program where police officers are trained and become subject-matter experts in recognizing the symptoms that contribute to impairment by drugs. In Nova Scotia it’s my understanding that we have the highest concentration per capita of trained police officers in the country. That’s an advantage for the province.
That’s a very complicated training process. They send officers out of province into the U.S. - into the U.S. penal system, actually, where they have high volumes of individuals under the influence of drugs. That’s the training environment they use. The moneys, to the point of the question, are within the policing services themselves. The province provides funding for the provincial police contract with the RCMP, and then the RCMP themselves would allot an amount of money for training purposes. This is where the DRE program would be captured.
With our municipal police services, they would have budgets approved at the municipal level, and an element of those budgets would be for purposes of training individual officers within those municipal police forces.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you to the minister. Road safety is undoubtedly a key aspect of law enforcement, but based on conversations we have, it seems there will be many other aspects of law enforcement. For instance, from the survey we’ve seen, it looks like the government intends to market cannabis via Crown Corporations - just based on that question. There were three options that all essentially indicated that a Crown Corporation would somehow - not all of them say “Crown Corporation,” but that’s the implication.
If that’s the way we go - maybe we’re going to, or maybe we’re not - then we’ll have all these dispensaries. So how do we deal with dispensaries? How do we deal with growers who are not licensed? There are a lot of different areas that will need enforcement, frankly.
So I wonder, could the minister comment on that? Also, has there been - and maybe you could point me to the line if I don’t see it - has there been expanded funding to policing that would capture this additional amount, theoretically, that they are going to have to expend in order to do this retraining and all the other trainings, in addition to whatever other specialized training they might need?
MR. FUREY: I think just to clarify the fiscal year we’re in and the Budget Estimates for the present fiscal year, 2017 up to the end of March 2018, there’s no money in this budget in this fiscal year for the cannabis impact, I’ll say. When we look at the federal legislation and our continued work to shape that framework for provincial legislation and regulation and on policies, all of those elements that go with it, those monies would be identified quite literally in the next fiscal year, a budget process that we will immediately commence after this session.
But I’ll say this, relative to the funding element and the recognized increased pressures on law enforcement, the federal government has committed in excess of $80 million over five years to assist with law enforcement. We continue, as do our colleagues across the country and in all provinces and territories, to impress upon the federal government this element, this piece and how important it is that we secure additional funding for purposes of enforcement.
MS. CHENDER: So, to clarify, it sounds like there’s a lot of extra work that various policing bodies are doing but they’re not getting a bigger budget for it this year, this fiscal - is that correct? It sounds like DRE and those other initiatives are currently ongoing. I just want to clarify that that’s correct.
MR. FUREY: The impacts, as we speak, with the cannabis legislation, I would suggest from my own experience in that environment, would be minimal and the provincial police service and municipal policing agencies would be absorbing what expenses they are incurring.
My colleague mentioned in a previous question about the sheer number of dispensaries. Those dispensaries, outside of the approved medicinal marijuana stream, are illegal. I know in various situations our police community, our law enforcement community, has effected enforcement in searching a number of those facilities and coming up with illicit drugs and firearms and other paraphernalia. In many cases, those are joint investigations between municipal policing and RCMP and those communities often through their street crime teams and, in those situations, those police agencies would be absorbing the cost of that enforcement within their existing budget in this fiscal year.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, just to come back to another piece of that question I sort of laid out at the end of my last question, some of the concerns that I had heard. So, dispensaries is one - enforcement of those, enforcement of illegal grow-ops, things of that nature, but I’m wondering both with those or also, you know, what are you, what is your department hearing on the ground that the police, the folks on the front line are most concerned about and, with the exception of impaired driving which I think you’ve already addressed, what are some of the things that are the major concerns from a justice perspective and what plans are being put in place to deal with those?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, the question that my colleague has posed - I think of the existing online consultation in the areas where the province has responsibility around age, around distribution, and around consumption - those are the areas that we as a province have responsibility for and, to the point of my colleague’s question, those are the areas that we’re focused on. If you set a legal age, we know there will always be those younger than the age who will consume; that’s the truth of the matter as we speak. So, how do you address that going forward and I think it goes back to some of the discussion I had with my colleague last evening around finding that balance of an appropriate age that addresses the demand in the sense that we want to direct the consumer to a regulated market versus the illegal market. So, that will be an ongoing discussion; it’s a focal point of the work that we’re doing.
Another element, in itself, is the distribution model. Much research, much background work from other provinces and territories, as well as the U.S. states, and what Colorado has told us to the point of the question is they basically went out and opened the doors - and multiple retail dispensaries. With a bit of humour, they tell me that there are actually more dispensaries than there are McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. That’s not what we want. We want to be able to control the distribution. We believe that’s important when we talk about public safety and my colleague, the Minister of Business, mentioned earlier in a response to a question in Question Period that the priority of this government is public safety, particularly around our youth. Much like we do now in regulating the retail and consumption of alcohol, there’s always a concern of those underage having access. Those are a couple of examples.
But if you look at evolving challenges, I think of the consumption environment where we presently have regulations around the consumption of cigarettes. The Smoke-free Places Act lays out where you can and where you can’t. There are similar expectations in the provincial Liquor Control Act around consumption and where you can or can’t consume. Those are the types of things that we will continue to have a discussion on.
It is one of the elements of the survey that is online. It is an important part of the discussion. The survey is simply one factor in that overall analysis of where we land when we ultimately make the decision, keeping these factors in mind.
We know, contrary to popular belief, that there is going to be a cost to government, there is going to be a cost to enforcement. The Parliamentary Budget Officer just last week, in addressing this very issue, spoke about those very points, that there’s no cash cow for provinces in this model of legalization of cannabis. There is going to be cost to government, and it continues to form part of that work. As we build a framework, once decisions are made around age and distribution and consumption, that work around building the framework will capture these very areas.
MS. CHENDER: With respect, I think what we’re trying to find out at this early date is where those costs are. Acknowledging that there will be costs across departments, again, we’re just trying to see where those might be. You mentioned earlier that there’s $80 million in federal funding over five years - is that just to Nova Scotia?
MR. FUREY: I just want to add to my colleague’s comments about the costs. We recognize there are going to be costs. It’s safe to say we don’t know yet specifically where those costs will be other than the obvious around enforcement and prosecution, these types of things, depending on how the framework is rolled out.
Now I forget the second question that my colleague posed. (Interruption)
Yes, federal funding - I’m sorry. The $80.1 million that the federal government has allotted is for the country - we wish it was for Nova Scotia - and it’s over a five-year period. As I indicated earlier, when you break it down, it’s not a lot of money. Through our team and our engagement with the federal government - I know the Premier himself and the Council of Federation have identified this as a critical issue, as have all of the Premiers and territorial leaders when it comes to the associated costs that we recognize and acknowledge and the need for the federal government to recognize and address those circumstances.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you, minister. I’ll now finish my time, and my colleagues from the PC caucus will go.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
MS. KIM MASLAND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m going to start by talking about road safety. That’s a very big concern I have. You alluded to your main concern being public safety, particularly our youth in Nova Scotia. I’m really glad to hear that, because that’s very important to me too.
My question is, where are we with marijuana/drug impairment and the operation of motor vehicles?
MR. FUREY: As my colleague would know - she has recent experience and familiarity with the law enforcement community in her previous role, and I think acknowledges the importance of road safety. I mentioned earlier the existing numbers of expert DRE officers trained in the Province of Nova Scotia. That actually works out to about 61, when I talk about the highest percentage per capita. We’re positioned very well in that area.
For the benefit of my colleagues in the Legislature, those individuals may or may not be on shift at the time when an officer comes upon an individual who they believe is under the influence of drugs while operating a motor vehicle. If that person is on shift, they are called or dispatched to attend to those circumstances. In some cases where there is not an individual on shift, there is an individual on call, so the availability of an officer to fulfill that role and that need roadside, although with some delay, certainly remains available. Much like the breathalyzer - I guess I’m dating myself when I say “breathalyzer”; I think the new terminology is the Intoxilyzer - there may or may not be somebody on shift.
As a matter of fact, with the work relationships that exist between the municipal police and the RCMP in the province - I think the best example is right here in Halifax, with the integrated policing model - it’s not uncommon for a member of the Halifax Regional Police service who was trained either as a breathalyzer operator or a DRE subject-matter expert to travel to Sackville or Cole Harbour or Enfield for purposes of providing that support and that expertise. It’s important to understand those relationships as they exist, quite literally, around the province. I’m going to use HRM as an example.
The other element that I referenced earlier is the pilot project that the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP are using in the metro area, the oral fluids swab element. There’s a cost associated with that. It’s about $3,000 per kit. You would want, in similar circumstances, to have that kind of enforcement tool available, much like we do the roadside devices for alcohol - in my day, again; I’m dating myself - the small ALERT, but there’s a new name for them, where an officer who believes they have a driver under the influence of alcohol, with specific criteria and symptoms, can demand a test of the driver of a motor vehicle. So there are parallels between the oral swab process and the device used for detection of alcohol.
The other element I think is important, in response to my colleague’s question, Mr. Chairman, is the need to recertify our DRE-trained officers and I’m not quite sure of the recertification period, I believe it is every two years. I’m looking to my colleagues - every two years it is. There’s a cost associated to that as well.
As we speak, those expenses are incurred within existing budgets. But as we go forward and we see how drug-impaired driving is impacted by the legislation, there could be a need to increase the number of drug recognition experts, certainly attention to the oral swab process. My point is there would be associated costs to those. So, we as a department, would have to revisit and look at, in future fiscal years, is it reasonable to continue to expect our policing services to absorb those costs. If numbers remain the same, that would be a reasonable approach. But if there’s an increase in those circumstances, those events, then it would be reasonable to revisit the monies that are being budgeted for purposes, recognizing that there would be an enhanced training need to address and respond to those needs.
MS. MASLAND: Did you say there are 61 officers trained right now in the Province of Nova Scotia? Okay, good.
I guess my next question is, and you’ve said that there’s no training in the province, I heard you mention that earlier, this training is in the United States, which is a very costly venture for the province - do you feel that presently we have enough officers trained as drug recognition experts right now, with the rollout in July?
MR. FUREY: Yes, my colleague is correct, the training for purposes of recertification is an expensive venture, in the area of about $6,000 per officer. As those training needs arise, there are monies budgeted for those needs.
To my colleague’s question going forward, we really don’t know yet the impact that the legalization of cannabis is going to have. One can draw the conclusion that we would see increased incidents of impaired driving by drugs. I think it’s important, as I indicated earlier, for the law enforcement community to be able to monitor those circumstances.
I mentioned earlier, in my opening comment last night, the strong work relationship between the Department of Justice in public safety and they, as the liaison with our municipal police and our provincial police and the RCMP have ongoing dialogue around these very points. When there’s a need, it is communicated through and various options and opportunities to address those needs. Sometimes it is an increase in the budget to address the demand.
I think it would be premature to say automatically that we’re going to do that. I think we have to be diligent in our work, we have to be thorough in the analysis, as the legalization of cannabis unfolds in July. I would say the law enforcement community themselves will be diligent, from an enforcement perspective. That will be the best litmus test to determine, based on existing data, whether we actually see an increase in numbers from that period forward. So, the ability to compare it to previous periods and previous enforcement efforts will be an important part in that analysis in determining training needs going forward to address quite possibly an increase in DRE officers.
MS. MASLAND: I appreciate your comments. My big concern is will we have enough officers to be prepared to deal with the enforcement of this - and I appreciate what you’re saying, that it is hard to know. We don’t know what we’re looking at. But right now, the RCMP are recruiting. It seems like we don’t have enough officers. We see many officers on ODS. There are all kinds of things happening.
The officers that I have spoken to are telling me that we as a province are not ready. They feel that they do not have the supports, that they’re not being trained, that the resources are not available to them in enough of a timely manner in order for them to be able to be ready to go out there in July. That is a concern.
My question is, how quickly do you see these tools and training being made available to our front-line officers in order that we are ready?
MR. FUREY: I can’t speak for the law enforcement community other than to recognize that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have said at Senate hearings that the law enforcement community is going to be challenged with regard to the legalization of cannabis and, in particular, the area of enforcement. That’s the national general position.
But as I said earlier, Nova Scotia has the highest number of drug recognition expert trained members in the country compared to all other provinces. We are positioned well with our drug recognition experts.
I absolutely understand the concern that my colleague has expressed when she uses the term “in a timely manner.” I can tell you from past experience that there are circumstances where you would come upon an impaired driver, and the officer who stops that impaired driver is trained to do appropriate tests. But there would be times, Mr. Chairman, when that officer would have to call for support from an officer in a neighbouring detachment or department to provide that training, which inherently identifies a delay, to my colleague’s comments about a timely response. Depending on the time of day, most often in the wee hours of the morning, when an office would come upon an impaired driver, they may have to call somebody out from home who is trained to provide that support and testing.
So, I want to acknowledge that the timely response is an important discussion. It’s part of everyday policing, whether it’s impaired driving by alcohol or impaired driving by drug. We believe, as we speak, based on our discussions with the law enforcement community and the data that we have on a national level that Nova Scotia is positioned very well.
We will be able to determine additional needs once this rolls out and we have that data that we’re able to make comparisons to previous periods and then be confident that if, in fact, we are seeing an increase in drug-impaired drivers, then we have to revisit the discussion around the number of trained experts that can provide that service.
MS. MASLAND: Do you foresee any training being able to be done within the province at some point? Because when we’re taking officers and paying them, you know, many of them coming off the schedule to go away for training, it’s a lot easier and less expensive to train within the province than to have to send them to the Unite States. So, do you foresee in the future that training ability here in our province?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, there have been discussions with the federal government around a made-in-Canada training program to support DRE training and DRE recertification training. There has been nothing advanced or announced as we speak, but the foundation, the purpose, the reason for our officers having to leave the province is based on a number of samples or tests they have to do for purposes of certification. So, the high volume of individuals under the influence of intoxicants, drugs, the foundation, the place for that is in the largest penal institutions in the United States and that’s where those programs have been based, but we’ve certainly had the discussion for a made-in-Canada program. It would drive down some of those costs, obviously, because of the travel.
I think the cost associated to DRE training is about $6,000, per officer, and you’re absolutely right, whether it’s DRE training or other training that the police community strives to meet under the continuous learning model, those are the realities of policing when it comes to training and I would say any profession for that matter where so many professions are focused on continuous learning. You’re taking individuals out of the work environment and extending them those developmental opportunities. At the same time there’s a cost to backfilling their positions in their absence through the use of their colleagues either on overtime or shift changes that are really a part of the policing environment.
MS. MASLAND: So, some of the other concerns that I have heard have come from employers, and they’re concerned about how to identify impairment in the workplace. You know, now, if someone has been drinking alcohol, if they were to come in, there’s the smell factor that you know that they have been drinking, but with cannabis that’s not there. So, has there been any thought put to the requirement of updating the OHS regulation so that employers have parameters of what they can do when an employee shows up at work under the influence?
MR. FUREY: This has been a topic of discussion across the country amongst provincial/territorial partners. There is no handbook at this point as to how employers are going to deal with those circumstances. I would suggest those circumstances are existing now in many workplaces. I know some of the larger corporate entities have had these discussions - not driven so much by the legalization of cannabis, but by the circumstances that they are experiencing in the workplace. That continues to evolve.
Our focus and our priority as we speak - and not to diminish the importance of response to consumption or under the influence in the workplace - our focus has been around those areas that the federal government has delegated to the province, that being age, distribution, and consumption, and some attention to the provincial “opportunity”, I think may be the right word, to look at administrative penalties similar to those that are presently in existence relative to impaired driving, when the Criminal Code legal limit is .08 in Nova Scotia we have administrative penalties between .05 and .08 - similar types of provincial legislation on top of the three areas that I spoke about and each of these four areas captured in the survey that we presently have ongoing.
MS. MASLAND: I will say that I am extremely concerned about where we’re going as quickly as we’re going. I do believe we need more time, but I understand what has been placed on us.
My last question is - and I know you don’t have that big suitcase over there that we talked about earlier, full of all the revenue money, but there will be some, and I know it’s going to be spread out to take care of this, but my hope is that some of this revenue money will go back to people who do become addicted, and that money will be there to - and some of that money will be rolled into mental health, the addictions programs, and to be there to help families so they can make sure that their children or family members can get that help.
Now I’ll pass it over to the Justice Critic, my colleague, the member for Pictou West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: I would like to start with going over the last question that I mentioned last evening. Just to refresh, I’m looking to find out how involved the minister and his department were in constructing the questions for the online survey, or did they leave the whole responsibility - once again, there were only seven multiple choice questions - was there involvement with MQO or was it the department’s decision to put those questions on the survey?
MR. FUREY: Just as I think about the online survey, which I have completed once, Mr. Chairman, I think there are 18 questions, nine of them substantive. The focus of the survey is on those areas I mentioned earlier - age, distribution, consumption, and administrative penalties for impaired driving.
When my colleague asks about how involved we were, I just want to take her back to some of our discussions of last night and the tendering process, the RFP or the standing offer that was utilized. So, in identifying from the standing offer list, we actually engaged three companies on the standing offer list to determine the scope of their work and their ability to do what we needed to have done. It was from that process that MQO was identified. As we know, MQO has done this type of online survey in the past and certainly as the minister responsible for the Department of Justice and the lead department on this file, I was engaged in discussions around the survey itself, absolutely.
I leave the decisions to those subject matter experts who have experience in designing and completing these types of online surveys to be guided by that expertise as long as it is meeting our objectives. Our objectives here are to determine an appropriate age, an appropriate distribution model, and a framework around consumption, and another discussion as to whether we incorporate additional administrative penalties above and beyond what the Criminal Code would establish.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just to clarify, it sounds like the minister is saying that he was involved in the wordsmithing of those questions. There are more than seven multiple choice questions - not really multiple choice, I guess there are, where do you live, how many people live in the house, et cetera, but the meat of it really narrows down to really what seven questions are.
Just a simple question, how many times can someone fill out the survey?
MR. FUREY: I just want to go back to a comment my colleague used and words that she used, for purposes of clarity in this House, I did not say I was involved in the wordsmithing, that was my colleague’s language. I was involved in the discussions around the survey.
My priority, my responsibility is to ensure that we are engaging Nova Scotians and that we are engaging Nova Scotians in those areas that the province is responsible for and that is age, distribution, consumption, and administrative penalties around impaired driving.
I depend on, and this was a collaborative effort across multiple departments, including Communications Nova Scotia, working with MQO, to design the survey questions. That’s a reasonable approach to completing a survey, from my perspective.
To my colleague’s latter question - my colleague knows full well that she could go on multiple times and complete the survey, but there’s some background to the objective here, Mr. Chairman. We want to engage Nova Scotians. We want to use a medium that will engage and maximize the involvement and participation of Nova Scotians, and we believe the online survey serves that purpose. As I understand it, as we speak, in excess of 30,000 - and that’s not 30,000 people, that’s not 10,000 have gone on and done multiple - 30,000 unique users, which is visits to the website.
So, we know that 30,000 different Nova Scotians have accessed the website. We know that there are, in the area of 25,000 online surveys completed. If there were 12,000 Nova Scotians who accessed the site and we had 25,000 surveys completed, I would be concerned but I believe Nova Scotians have a genuine interest in this discussion, that Nova Scotians have gone online in significant numbers to share their thoughts and opinions in response to the questions that are contained in the survey, and, yes, acknowledge that there would be people who have gone on to prove that they can do it more than once. We recognize that but I would say this, Mr. Chairman, given the numbers that we see, we don’t believe that the survey process is being abused. What we do recognize is that the medium we’re using to engage Nova Scotians is effective in getting a response from Nova Scotians and that is important. That can’t be lost in this discussion.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank the minister for his answer and I agree in having an effective site and survey. What I would like to know though, is it going to be accurate? Does the minister believe it’s going to be accurate information but more importantly, I think the bigger question here is, how do you know that all the respondents are of age?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, a couple of elements to the response. In general terms around the use of the survey, the methodology of a survey, every province and territory in the country, with the exception of New Brunswick, has used the online survey methodology to source that information and I’m certainly not an expert in analyzing the response to online surveys and that’s why we contract those who are experienced in these types of public engagement mediums is to depend on their expertise in doing that analysis and, as I indicated last night, when this is done, we will have a what-we-heard document compiled that will give us some idea in one element, in one factor, in a number of factors that will ultimately help us in making informed decisions around age, distribution, and consumption.
There is, in addition to the questions, the multiple-choice questions. The last question on the survey is an open question that gives Nova Scotians an opportunity to express unlimited what their views, opinions, and thoughts are around the legalization of cannabis and I’m sure that that question will capture a number of issues that we have no responsibility for or even authority for. What I anticipate MQO will be able to do is extract from that open-ended question circumstances that are relevant to the provincial responsibilities around age, consumption, and distribution.
MS. MACFARLANE: Look, I know the subject matter is not easy; I know it’s complex. I realize that there are over 40 employees working on it, but at the end of the day there is a common denominator here. That common denominator is that we are all concerned about the safety of our youth and keeping it out of their hands until they’re old enough to make the decision themselves if they want to purchase it or not. There could be youths who are actually on it for medicinal reasons.
But I can’t stress enough how concerned I am about the survey. I know that has shown through Question Period; it’s showing through etimates; and it’s showing through interviews. I truly am concerned that the survey is weak. I stand here, and I know that there are children who are under 18 who are filling it out. At the end of the day, October 27th, when the survey is complete, I really, truly hope that not all your decisions will be based on that survey.
It is biased. I’m hearing that from Nova Scotians, that it’s almost like it’s foreshadowing that you’re prepared to put it in the NSLCs. My question is, is it a fact that you are planning to have it distributed through NSLC stores in Nova Scotia?
MR. FUREY: I’m on record, Mr. Chairman, having said this previously. We have made no decisions in each of these areas. I have said this publicly as well, in Question Period, and in the media. We have had ongoing discussions, the department and colleagues in four or five other departments, from a provincial perspective. They have reached out and engaged colleagues across the country in every province and territory and into the U.S. states that have legalized marijuana. Those discussions have been very informative in that they have allowed us to learn from the experiences of others.
I used the example earlier today of the State of Colorado. They basically let the horse out of the barn and allowed retail dispensaries to pop up everywhere. The advice that they are sharing with us is don’t do that. They can’t pull that back in now.
If we are committed and genuine in identifying the priority around public safety, particularly our youth - my colleague and I agree on many, many things, and this is probably one of the most important. This is about public safety, and if we are sincere about advancing a model, a framework, of public safety, then we have to have control from the outset; we have to maintain control. We always have the ability, at some point in time, to expand on that. But we don’t believe that going out the gate and doing what Colorado did is beneficial to our province and, quite honestly, believe it would compromise our ability to prioritize public safety and access by youth through the retail models that the State of Colorado has introduced.
My colleague indicated that she was aware that people under the age of 18 are completing the survey. One of the questions actually asks, are you under 18? That’s acknowledged. We’re not opposed to the input of those under 18 because what I would suggest to my colleague is that many of those under 18 are consuming marijuana as we speak. We know Nova Scotians as young as 12 years old are consuming marijuana; we know that Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of consumption in the country, per capita. It only reinforces our priority and how important it is to focus on public safety.
I know there is a discussion around economic development and people believe that there is a bag with a billion dollars in it. We don’t believe that, Mr. Chairman. We know there’s going to be a cost associated to the legalization of cannabis and the responsibilities that we as a province have. We believe that we have to control that, as I’ve said, and no decisions have been made and I want to assure my colleague of that. We are proposing, based on the work we’ve done and we’re asking Nova Scotians, is 19 reasonable? Is a Crown Corporation model reasonable, and what do you think about consumption?
We have existing circumstances that the Liquor Control Act and the Smoke-free Places Act cover. We’re asking Nova Scotians, do we align, should we align consumption around either of those, or should we open the doors and allow people to do it where and when they wish? That’s what we’re asking Nova Scotians and we believe the way we’ve laid it out, very focused in the questions, which speaks to the limited number of questions. We believe the methodology will be one element to my colleague’s point hoping that we don’t make the decisions solely on the feedback from the survey. The survey will be one factor in that decision-making process.
MS. MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for his answers. I realize that one of the very first questions in the survey is are you under the age 18, but the reality is that they click yes without knowing what the rest of the survey is going to be and it stops them at that because they are under 18, but all they do is go back out and say they’re over 18. So, they’re filling it out and that’s all my point, at the end of the day, you’re not going to have accurate results and that’s - I’m going to stop there, I don’t think I have to say it again. I know it’s ad nauseum now that we’re discussing this and I apologize, but at the end of the day they will not be accurate.
So, I do want to know though - you mentioned earlier that there were two other companies now that you did consult with. What are the names of those two companies?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t have the names of those two companies with me, in front of me. They’re on the standing offer list but I’m sure we can confirm the names and provide them to my colleague.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, that’s very reasonable. I would like to have them though at a later time that’s convenient for the minister to provide them.
Earlier as well, I believe last evening, you indicated that out of the $65,000 for MQO, I believe - I keep getting that mixed up but I think it’s MQO - that there would be approximately five or six stakeholder sessions held throughout the province. I’m wondering, could you name me the locations of those and who do you mean by “stakeholders?”
MR. FUREY: When you include municipalities, there are nine stakeholder sessions. There are five sessions for key stakeholders that would include those representatives from health, law enforcement, education, and youth - two of those in HRM, one in the Annapolis Valley, one in Cape Breton, and one in Truro for law enforcement.
Those sessions will be facilitated by MQO and part of the $65,000 cost includes that work. And there are four municipal sessions scheduled that will be led by Municipal Affairs with subject matter expertise, those involved in the file from the department to answer questions, and those are being held in Port Hawkesbury, Truro, Liverpool, and Bridgetown.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you for that detailed information. So, none of these sessions though will include taxpayers or none of these sessions will include anyone who is interested in investing in the industry, or perhaps already has. So, to narrow maybe my question, right now, I believe in Nova Scotia we have one producer who has all the permits and everything?
Health Canada has actually given them the go-ahead. I believe that they are located in Truro. I am wondering if there has been any meeting with them yet considering the financial investment that they have made and considering the economic benefits and jobs that will be coming out of this establishment, and investment. I would like to know if there were any meetings held with them, perhaps give me a few details about that meeting.
MR. FUREY: I just want to elaborate on the stakeholders for the benefit of my colleague - and I would say recognize that they are all taxpayers of Nova Scotia. They may have a special interest but they are certainly taxpayers - 122 stakeholder organizations including 37 community health boards, so the list is very, very broad. But I do want to say, and I am not sure where my colleague is hearing the Truro facility has been licensed, I am not aware of that. What I know is there are in the area of 15 applications to the federal Department of Health, and my understanding that a number of those are in various stages of the process that Health Canada requires them to go through. But as we speak it is my understanding that there are no proposed producers in the Province of Nova Scotia that have been approved by Health Canada.
MS. MACFARLANE: My understanding - and maybe it is a time issue - my understanding is that the Truro Herbal Company has been. So, once again, I am just asking, was there a meeting held with the minister?
MR. FUREY: My apologies, I do know that was a question she asked in her first question. My apologies.
No, I have not met with any of those applicants to become licensed producers. I took a position from the outset I would not engage those individuals. For me, it’s absolutely important as the minister that I am transparent. Nova Scotians have to have confidence that the minister, perceived or real, is not involved in the selection process. I don’t think everybody was happy with me that I took that position, but I believe that is absolutely the right position to take in this specific file.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m kind of laughing at myself because I did have a bunch more questions with regard to this, and I think I’ve misplaced them - I’m sure the minister will be pleased.
I’m going to change the subject matter. I want to go to ankle bracelets for a few moments. Perhaps I can just throw out a couple of simple questions, and they can be answered in one. I’m just wondering, how many devices are currently being used in Nova Scotia? Basically, how many are available - are they all being used and, if not, how many would be available?
MR. FUREY: How did they ever run estimates before the technology of texting? As we speak, depending on the technology, there are about 80 available and presently 45 in use.
MS. MACFARLANE: Is there any money in this budget to increase the number of ankle bracelets? It sounds like we have some available, but I was informed by someone in law enforcement that they are all being used. I’m just wondering, can we double-check on that? It sounds like a lot, 45 available. If that’s the case, that’s great. Was there any discussion around increasing the budget or any room in the budget to purchase any more?
MR. FUREY: The use of ankle bracelets is actually a risk-based program, depending on the seriousness of the crime, the behaviour of the individual, and the history of re-offending - those types of factors would be included. But I think the key element to the availability of 80 and only 45 in use - and we believe these are the accurate numbers today - is that there is a reduction in community sentences, and that typically has been where ankle bracelets have been utilized.
MS. MACFARLANE: How much is an ankle bracelet? Does the department feel that it is an effective and efficient use of taxpayers’ money?
MR. FUREY: The cost associated to the use of bracelets I think would be helpful. The radio frequency bracelet is a cost of about $6.90 per day, so the daily use would be the rate. The GPS, the Global Positioning System, device is just shy of $10 a day. There was a reduction to the budget for ankle bracelets under the previous government some time ago, but based on their use we presently have surplus bracelets, we don’t feel there’s a need to increase the budget at this time, until such time as those bracelets would be used and right now we’re in a very good position.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank the minister for his answers. I just quickly want to say, do they feel they are effective and efficient, though?
MR. FUREY: Yes, we believe they are a valuable tool, both as a deterrent and I would say the public takes a level of confidence in knowing that that type of technology is providing another level of public safety, that it is part of reintegration and as we understand the justice system we want to rehabilitate people, we want people to be back in society. There are cost savings when people are active in our communities.
I’ll just give you an idea of numbers and comparisons to the use of the devices. There were 285 offenders on the electronic supervision, the ES systems, during 2016 and in 2017 thus far, for GPS land line, GPS and radio frequency devices, so that’s 2016-17, currently there are 43 offenders on GPS and seven offenders on RF. So, a significant reduction in the number of offenders using the bracelet.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you very much. Just to wrap it up, I am a proponent of the ankle bracelets. I’m sure your numbers are up to date and are most accurate. I was just curious because there had been some concerns addressed to me that perhaps we needed more in the province, but with 45 or so on hand, obviously I would think that we have enough in stock then. So that’s good information and thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the Progressive Conservative caucus has expired.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I think I’m going to spend the majority of this hour asking about Corrections. So, to start, I want to ask a few questions about closed confinement. I asked the minister in this House about an internal review that we discovered was being conducted in the area of closed confinement and was told that he would share the results of this review with us at the appropriate time. So, I want to check back in and see whether this is an appropriate time to share that review but, also, just to ask how that review came about. So, did someone give the directive to undertake the review, or was it in response to specific issues - or anything else that the minister could tell us about that?
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to respond to my colleague’s request for the report and apologize to her because I did not realize nobody from my office had responded. So, that should have happened by now. Let me first apologize but explain what was entailed. The issue around close confinement was topical right across the country, provinces, and territories. We’re having challenges and it was from that attention that the executive director did a policy review of our circumstances in Nova Scotia and, from that review, made a number of changes to regulation and policy, as well as conditions, an opportunity for an appeal in the decisions that were being made. But I think the most important factor is that our numbers relative to close confinement policy, originally of 15 days, Nova Scotia reduced to 10 for adult facilities and in our youth facilities, originally 10 reduced to seven, I believe, but we’ve seen a decrease from an average of - in disciplinary close confinement - a reduction from 5.4 to 3.8.
I do want to share with my colleague that in my inquiries, based on her question, there was no final report written. There were a number of changes made internally to respond, so we don’t have a formal written report. I have asked internally that in the future these reports be compiled and not just within Corrections, I need to know, Nova Scotians need to know, what we are doing relative to changes that are being made, whether it be in our correctional facilities or in our judicial process, recognizing that there would be circumstances that we could not share, consistent with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, FOIPOP process, but as we speak no written report as a result of that review.
MS. CHENDER: That’s disappointing, I would like to have seen a written report, but in the absence of that, can you tell me when those changes or that review, or what we know of it, will be made public?
MR. FUREY: The policy changes we have implemented are online so that information is public information through those online portals. That’s the medium right now and, as we speak, as I indicated, no written report that I have available.
MS. CHENDER: With respect, I would suggest that the policy changes are the outcome of a review, but not the meat of a review. I think what I am interested in, and what I would suggest many members of the public and stakeholders are interested in, is what was found during that review. I understand there’s no written report but if there is an opportunity to share with us where we came from, what we found, where we’re going and something more detailed than a few policy statements, that would be greatly appreciated.
I guess at the moment, maybe you could tell me a little bit about the role of the department in the reviews, something about the process that was undertaken or any details you can provide.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I want to make a commitment to my colleague that we will endeavour to get a report of that review, but I will explain the components of that review. So, they would have looked at existing policy; indication of lengths of stay; a cross-jurisdictional scan - what are other provinces and territories doing, what are they experiencing; the length of stay; the conditions of the stay; and procedural safeguards; and really, a shift from recognizing the policy has since changed. I stand to be corrected, I think I indicated earlier youth from 10 to seven was actually 15 to seven, but a change in the approach from one that is punitive to incentive-based and, in other words, one can earn their way out and, I think, contributes to the decline in the length of time we’re seeing.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, I will look forward to seeing that.
In Ontario, an independent review was initiated and a federal correctional investigator was hired to lead that review - can you explain the decision here to keep the review internal?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, given that these circumstances were topical and driven by some pretty extenuating circumstances in other provinces but everybody recognizing that there were concerns around the issue of close confinement, the review that was undertaken was actually an initiative of the executive director himself - I think a reasonable approach to take given the circumstances. I know in considering these circumstances the outcomes of - and I’m not sure of the name of the report but there was a report named the Mandela report, I believe, that spoke about close confinement, so, conscious of the impacts of close confinement, an initiative that was taken here.
I think the circumstances are very different, what we’re seeing in our facilities and the declining numbers in confinement compared to the circumstances, I would say extreme circumstances that we are seeing in other facilities in other provinces. We had the opportunity to tour the facility here in Burnside and, I think, have a greater awareness to the circumstances of close confinement and the reasons for close confinement.
I think the initiative that the executive director took was an appropriate response although no specific issues that were high profile in Nova Scotia, a response to the fact that we could experience those circumstances and be cognizant of what was happening in other provinces, steps that he took and, as a result of that, some important changes.
MS. CHENDER: With respect, I would suggest that many of the issues that have become high profile in other provinces likely and anecdotally do exist in our province. We just are fortunate that none of them have ended in the kind of acute tragedy so far, that we’ve seen in other places which is sort of why I’m pursuing this line of questioning. In the minds of many, close confinement, particularly solitary confinement under that heading would be regarded as torture according to many international observers, so that’s why I’m asking about things like an external review because we know that we can get more impartial feedback on our own system when we have someone impartial come in and look at it.
You spoke a little bit about the scope of the review, so policy, length of stay, conditions. There are a few other issues that have been raised by a lot of stakeholder groups that I’m wondering if you pursued or found information on - and I’ll just list a few of those and you could speak to them: close confinement on folks with mental health issues - we know that there are a lot of challenges around that; close confinement for pregnant women and how pregnant women are dealt with in that situation and, I mean, it goes without saying that I would ask why a pregnant woman would ever be placed in close confinement but we know that happens - so, I’d like to understand what happens in that situation; racialized people and whether there is any data on whether racialized people are over-represented in close confinement; and, last, the minister mentioned our visit to Burnside and the most disturbing thing that I saw when we went there was a young man with cancer who was in a solitary confinement cell. By the admission of the guards, it was for his own health and safety because he was actively undergoing chemotherapy and couldn’t be exposed to germs.
I’m not asking about that specific case because I understand there would be privacy concerns, but it certainly leads me to wonder about how we think about solitary confinement in particular when it comes to also physically ill inmates.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, as I understand it, there are no circumstances in our facilities where pregnant women are placed in close confinement. Those who are have access to programs within the facility, including mental health and other program services. We’re certainly aware of the mental health impacts that close confinement has and we have just changed the conditions of confinement for all of the health cells and there is no longer close confinement. Some are confined for their safety and, in some cases, actually a doctor’s order. There’s a specific need for those circumstances and I think to the point of my colleague’s question, Mr. Chairman, is to mitigate these circumstances, a reduction in numbers. We had only seven in close confinement for administrative purposes today and that’s down from 27 in January, so I think it’s safe to say enhanced attention to the circumstances of close confinement, and I do want to tell my colleague that I in no way was downplaying the circumstances that we have in Nova Scotia, and my colleague was quite right - we’ve been fortunate not to have the tragic outcomes of other provinces.
The work that staff is doing is, in fact, to mitigate those very circumstances and I would also say this, when circumstances arise - and there may be a communication piece that has to be addressed - but an individual in close confinement or a family member could engage the ombudsman for an investigation on an individual basis where a family member or an individual, themselves, in close confinement feels that that would be warranted.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, I’ll just leave with you that I believe I actually even had a conversation with Mr. Kelly about a pregnant inmate who had, in fact, been in close confinement. I believe that the circumstance was for her own safety. So, perhaps, that’s where the confusion is. We don’t need to discuss it now but suffice it to say I feel fairly satisfied that it does happen from time to time, which is the reason, so if you want to get back to me at a later time about how that might be accommodated, that’s fine.
Our caucus has raised concerns here with your predecessor about the high percentage of racialized people, which I just asked about, not only in the prison system in general but also in close confinement. The former minister was asked last Fall what assurances she could give this House that African Nova Scotians and Aboriginal people are not over-represented in terms of time spent in segregation, and I’ll quote the minister and can table Hansard, “The individuals are tracked and we can tell you individually how much time is spent in segregation, but it’s not collated properly, . . . In response to that, we are changing it, and I would say by the New Year, we will be able to track and keep accurate information to respond to the member’s question.”
We haven’t had the opportunity to ask that specific question again until now, but we did receive close confinement data since January 1st in the aforementioned FOIPOP and there was no mention at all of racialized people or statistics to that end. So, can the minister explain why that absence and whether the department does, in fact, have accurate data in that area?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I can’t speak to the statements of my predecessor and I would want to review the Hansard that my colleague has shared. Specific to the numbers in close confinement, I don’t have those numbers here. We would actually have to run a report to confirm those numbers, and another item that we will commit to getting for my colleague.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, just to clarify, the last we knew it was not possible to collate that data and that individual data was being kept but that it could not be outputted into a report. So, is the minister telling us that that report can be produced or that you’ll attempt to produce that report, just so we know where the data collection is?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, yes, it’s my understanding that the process has since been changed and that that information has been compiled but it would necessitate running a report to confirm the numbers.
MS. CHENDER: Corrections staff, we know, are often put in a very difficult position in terms of implementing policy while at the same time witnessing the struggles of those who experience long terms of close confinement. So, in this area in particular, it’s a thorny area for everyone involved. We recognize that and I’m curious how the minister gets feedback from Corrections staff about issues inside of the institution and whether there’s any specific feedback coming in this area either generally as a result of these policy changes and, I guess, how you get that feedback and how you’re in conversation with those folks.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, the existing process would be weekly meetings with the senior management team at individual facilities. Within Corrections, they do monthly meetings of all superintendents and all this information would flow up through into the department and, where necessary, my office and each month they review the superintendent’s report. So, there’s an exchange of information within the facilities and there’s an exchange of information across those facilities. I often have briefings in my department, in my office with all of the department leads and the executive director for Corrections would be participating in those briefings, and in many cases providing those briefings when circumstances require either the minister be apprised or, actually, on a couple of occasions where I have enquired and staff have responded.
MS. CHENDER: So, what have you heard from staff about close confinement and any issues they may have with it, or have you heard nothing or is there any trend of the feedback, you know, not anything individual but . . .
MR. FUREY: Yes, I would say this about close confinement - I think I’ve communicated a lot of the progress that we’ve made. So, I’ve witnessed that first-hand in two visits, one here in Burnside and another in Northeast. I had an opportunity to talk with staff and managers. I think the approach that has been taken with policy changes is encouraging.
There is certainly more attention given to the subject of close confinement in what I witnessed and I believe it to be a normal process, great care and attention by our Corrections employees in responding to the needs of those individuals in close confinement. I would say this, a diligent effort to - and I think supported by the numbers - to reduce the use of close confinement, recognizing that I don’t know we’d ever be able to say we’ve eliminated the use of close confinement because as each of my colleagues know who have joined us in the tour, in some circumstances close confinement is a request of the offender themselves, for personal safety reasons or for other reasons.
I believe the institution has an onus to provide that when a request would arise. I don’t know that we would ever eliminate it but I think it’s safe to say a focused effort and greater attention on the use of close confinement and a genuine effort to reduce the use of close confinement.
MS. CHENDER: My last question in this area - we’ve been using this term “close confinement” and as of course the minister knows, which is sometimes confusing in media and other coverage, that covers a wide range of circumstances. That could be solitary confinement in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day, it could be being by yourself on an entire range but without access to any other individuals, it could be administrative, and it could be disciplinary.
While the information we’ve received through freedom of information tells us why people are placed in close confinement, it doesn’t tell us the type of close confinement that’s used - so solitary, in their cell by themselves, in a range or cottage or some other situation, and I’m wondering if the department tracks this information if they could share it with us. If it is tracked, why wouldn’t we have received that with our freedom of information request?
MR. FUREY: I am being told that we actually do track that information. I can’t speak to why you would not have received the outcomes of that information in your FOIPOP request, but would say this - we’ll commit to gather that information and share it with you. I don’t believe it would be an intentional effort to withhold it and I’m more than prepared to share it with you for purposes of your question.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the minister, I appreciate your answers to the questions in this area. I remain concerned that we haven’t had an external review, mostly just for the more sort of transparent opportunity to consult a wide range of stakeholders. We know that there are Corrections staff and of course inmates themselves who are implicated when we are talking about close confinement. But we also could stand to learn a great deal from mental health experts, from advocates, from women’s groups, from all kinds of people. I believe that a public process or a private process that’s made public - whatever makes the most sense - led by an independent investigator might yield some more fruitful results in that area.
Nonetheless, I appreciate your candidness. I would like to receive that information. I am concerned that it didn’t appear in our freedom of information request. I’m not impugning any bad motives, as you said. I’m happy to take everyone at their word that it was accidental. Nonetheless, it is somewhat disconcerting.
With that, I want to move on to ask a few facility-based questions. The first is about the Cape Breton Correctional Facility. My understanding is that that building was built in 1977. Given the age of the building, there have been a number of issues, including asbestos and other issues that you might expect with buildings of that age. I’m wondering if the minister can tell us what the plan is for that facility - is there a rebuild, a renovation, is there a replacement, or is it going to stay the way it is?
MR. FUREY: The Cape Breton facility is aged and certainly a challenging environment for employees and offenders. We have committed $300,000 for the purposes of planning and design of a new facility. I know my colleague from Cape Breton Centre would be pleased with this information. As we speak, Corrections is working with Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for the purposes of identifying a piece of land where a new construction could happen. We’re well aware of the need.
I would also say this, recognizing the circumstances that we have talked about, over-representation in our facilities, one of the things that I have asked for and know is being considered in the planning and design of this facility is a wellness healing element for our Aboriginal community. Our objective is to reduce that over-representation in our correctional facilities, but where we find offenders from those communities, we’re still able to provide them the cultural needs that they desire. I’m pleased to say that there is an Aboriginal wellness healing element to the plan and design of this new facility.
MS. CHENDER: I’m glad to hear there’s a plan. I guess my follow-up questions are: is there a place in the budget where we see that, would it be in the TIR budget? Where do we see those numbers? Is there a P3 option being considered, or are we building this new facility?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, the $300,000 that was budgeted for the planning design actually came out of the Tangible Capital Assets, the TCA, fund if I can call it that. That planning and design will take us out over a period of time and into the next fiscal year. So, there would be no additional money budgeted in the next fiscal year. The planning and design would continue through that period and, at that point in the project approval process, would come back to Treasury Board for that fiscal lens and, if approved, subsequent money in the following fiscal year. So, that addresses the budget piece.
There was a second part to your question - oh, the P3 component. We have said, as a government, in the past we would look at all options for construction. I know my colleague is not necessarily in agreement with that but I think, in fairness to taxpayers, we have to be seen to look at all options. Where we land would be premature for me to say at this point; there’s a lot of work to do between now and then.
MS. CHENDER: Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, thank you for being candid. With respect, my understanding is that some of the challenges at the Burnside facility that are leading to the renovation have to do with its P3 construction and I’ll just leave that on the record as the way that we feel about, but I’ll look forward to discussing that at such time that it comes forward.
Moving on to the Central Nova facility, the renovations there I’m told were opposed by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union on the basis of health and safety of their members and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education also later filed in their favour. So, I’m just wondering if I could have an update of what’s happening with those renovations - whether those safety concerns were being addressed, and anything else you can tell me about that.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I believe my colleague is actually talking about the “direct supervision” model which is the most significant element on the renovations at the Burnside facility. The direct supervision model is seen to be a best practice across North America and it is the model of delivery of supervision at the new Northeast Nova facility.
I’ve talked to employees in the Northeast Nova facility and they very much enjoy that work environment and know that there’s a concern in the Burnside facility, and I believe it is transition into that new model and cognizant of the concerns that individuals face that $4 million project is well under way. We anticipate completion in the not too near future, I’m just not sure of the timelines, but recognize, just as I look here - final completion in the 2018-19 fiscal year there’s another lump of money budgeted in that fiscal for that project, so very conscious of the concerns of the employee group.
I know management, the superintendents and employees from the Northeast Nova facility, through general contact with their peers and colleagues, are talking about their experiences in the direct supervision model and believe that once we’re able to effect that transition and the completion of the construction, that the opportunity to work in that environment will realize the positive outcomes that we’re experiencing with our employees in the Northeast Nova facility.
MS. CHENDER: Moving on to the youth facility in Waterville, one of the concerns we’ve heard is around the ratio of full-time staff to casual staff. I’m curious if you can tell me what that ratio is or just the numbers of FTEs to casual staff there and whether you have a plan for more FTEs in that facility.
MR. FUREY: I’m wondering if I could have two minutes to take advantage of external facilities and in the meantime . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think we can manage a brief recess, minister.
MR. FUREY: We’ll source that information and get right back to my colleague.
[5:32 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[5:35 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We’ll now resume with the Minister of Justice.
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The staff complement at Waterville is made up of 75 full-time staff and 32 casual. We average about 25 youth in the facility at any given time, and the ratio at any time where the shift complement is on would be one staff for every two youth.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you. Just to follow up, I’ll ask, is that 75 full-time to 32 casual a similar ratio that we would see across other correctional facilities in the province? I’m not talking about the ratio of inmates to officers, but full-time to casual.
MR. FUREY: I think my colleague is comparing adult facilities to youth facilities. I don’t know what the ratio is in adult facilities. What I do know is that the ratio in the youth facility is a much better ratio. The staff-to-youth is better than we’re experiencing in our adult facilities. If I’m correct in communicating this information, the ratio in our adult facilities is actually one staff member per 10 offenders.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you. Just to clarify, I understand that that’s apples to oranges, but what I’m asking is just looking at staffing - full-time staff to casual staff, that ratio. At Waterville, you just mentioned, we have 75 FTEs and 32 casuals and I am wondering, at other correctional facilities, what the number of FTEs to the number of casuals is. I am asking of course because there is some concern that there is a heavier reliance at Waterville on casual staff than perhaps is good.
In particular the concern we have heard is that the current practice at Waterville is not to replace staff that leave the facility with youth on temporary absences, so that when a youth leaves, if they have dispensation to go play a ball game or whatever, as some of the youth at Waterville are able to do, that would leave the facility short-staffed and that is sort of exacerbated by this casual FTE and the lack of staffing. If you could speak to any of that, that would be helpful.
MR. FUREY: My understanding, if I am on the right track with my colleague’s question, casuals are leaving as a result of the fact there is not enough work there for them. And we just hired a new group of casuals at the Waterville facility and that is the first time in four years that has taken place, so the turnover as I understand it, is as a result of a lack of hours for the casual employee.
MS. CHENDER: Maybe I will have a chance to come back to that, but with time running short, before leaving Waterville we all know that Waterville has been on the news lately and we have discussed it on the floor of this House.
Safety remains a concern among staff there, or so we are told. I have here the joint occupational health and safety report that reviewed violence hazard risk assessments. I believe that was done in the wake of the riot that occurred at Waterville in that same year.
From my understanding, there are a number of things listed in this report that have not been completed - stab resistance vests, replacement of wooden doors with steel doors, the replacement of removable throwable furniture with bolted or weighted furniture, and a number of others.
This of course is a live concern given the return of a particularly concerning inmate to that facility. So, my question is, are all of the recommended fixes in this report going to be implemented and, if so, when, and, again, is there a cost associated with that or anticipated for that that we could see somewhere? And I will table this.
MR. FUREY: The report that my colleague has referred to was initiated by the executive director as a result of the riot my colleague has referenced, the occupational health and safety review. There were 42 categories of recommendations for a total of 103; 91 of the 103 recommendations were accepted; 89 of those 91 have been implemented. We’re presently waiting on CCTV equipment and continuing with the training of staff at the facilities.
Specific to metal doors, there are metal doors in cottage one if and when those circumstances are required at the facility - my understanding is that that cottage is vacant more often than it’s occupied.
Waterville is a unique facility, and I must acknowledge I haven’t been there yet. I plan to go, and my colleagues are welcome to come when we do that. It’s a different environment - it takes a restorative justice approach; employees aren’t wearing uniforms, it is about engaging with the youth who are there and helping facilitate reintegration, exposing them to community activities, as you have mentioned, wherever and whenever possible, and educational and health elements on site to support the youth who are there. It’s a much different environment than a traditional facility. The work continues, but the majority of those recommendations have been implemented, to my understanding.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you to the minister and staff. Seeing that there are 10 seconds left on the clock, I’ll return to this questioning after my colleagues have a chance to take their turn.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time for the NDP caucus has expired.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: I realize the minister was just out for a moment, but do his colleagues need a break or anything before we continue? No? Okay.
I know that my colleague spent a little bit of time on solitary confinement. I know that the minister and his department are far more in depth with the justice system and our facilities here in Nova Scotia. One of my concerns is that I always feel that the system should be based on correcting criminal behaviour. Sometimes I wonder if the method of solitary confinement actually improves the offender’s chances to reform or rehabilitate. I just want to know how the minister feels about that.
MR. FUREY: It’s an interesting question, and I say this based on our visit to the facilities - and I think my colleague has actually been to the Northeast facility as well.
It’s safe to say that the most important objective is the safety and security of all, both employees and offenders. As I indicated earlier, in spite of our best efforts to mitigate the time, the number of days in close confinement, we will always have some close confinement. Superintendents and managers in these facilities would exhaust every avenue in managing those facilities to ensure the public safety of both employees and offenders - and visitors, for that matter. Close confinement would be a last option, a last recourse that superintendents or managers would use in those facilities.
I absolutely recognize the need to provide oversight and supervision of the close confinement option. I have confidence that our superintendents and managers are applying that approach.
I’m not sure if I’m answering my colleague’s question, but I will say this: in order to maintain safety and security in these facilities, there has to be a need to manage those circumstances once circumstances arise. As I indicated, they would be a last resort.
MS. MACFARLANE: I don’t disagree. I believe we have to have close confinement. I do believe, though, that there has to be a better balance between discipline and rehabilitation.
Perhaps we need to look at - at the end of the day, I don’t believe a lot of these offenders are being put in close confinement with justification to what they have done. We know that media has picked up on a lot of stories across Canada - I’m not just speaking with regard to Nova Scotia but across Canada.
To me, sometimes I get confused with - so we put them in close confinement, but we take them out for their therapy sessions. It kind of negates the whole purpose of rehabilitating them when we put them in a room with no windows, no human contact, nothing. We’ve seen some very sad cases come out of these situations where individuals have gone as far as taking their life. Anxiety and depression are created by that.
I too agree that we have to have it, but I guess the question is, does the minister believe that it is overused? Have there been any plans to investigate the overuse of close confinement? That’s it. Thank you.
MR. FUREY: I struggle with saying it is overused. It is a difficult question to answer to be quite honest with you, but I would say this - we are cognizant of the impact of close confinement from a mental health perspective.
I want to reiterate that close confinement is used as a last resort, that programs and services remain available. The steps that have been taken clearly demonstrate a reduction in the use of close confinement. I know that it is topical for me; it is an inquiry that I make in the department often. We have seen it first-hand.
We know and we can appreciate how it impacts individuals, although we can’t imagine ourselves, having not been in those circumstances. We will continue to monitor this. I believe we have taken appropriate steps to mitigate the use, and I know that the superintendents and managers in those facilities understand and appreciate this impact. They are being very supportive in moving the bar in the right direction.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank the minister for his answers. It is tough; it is tough. I want to thank the minister when we had the opportunity to tour Burnside, and then as well a few weeks later I had the opportunity on my own to go to Northeast. You know you always think that you are not naïve to anything, that your eyes are wide open and you have seen everything and it is about protecting the employees and the offenders.
It is hard. I don’t think I could work in that environment because at the end of the day everything boils down to kindness and people just want to have a sense of belonging and worthy.
Yet offenders, many of them have been through so much that they don’t know how - they want to get better and they want to go back out in society and feel that sense of belonging. It’s very, very difficult. I know that the employees who took us around were fabulous. Northeast was a very impressive facility. I think that they are doing a lot of great projects there with offenders, getting them to actually start work projects within the facility.
Forgive me, I forget the name of the project and what they named it, but there were offenders who were able to go and work recycling and work the garden that day, or go and do the laundry. Those things may seem like nothing to us and but it is very meaningful to them, and it is actually, believe it or not, it is teaching them a skill set - we do that with our children, and we go fold the laundry secretly afterwards.
So, I just want to know - I did find a huge difference between Burnside and Northeast in that - is there any discussion or is Burnside doing that and I just didn’t catch that? I think it is a wonderful project and I think that it needs to happen more in facilities. I am just wondering if you could give me an update on the other facilities in the province – do they have similar projects for their offenders?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, my colleague is quite right - the sense you get in each of the two facilities is different. My colleague would be aware the renovations at Burnside are based on the direct supervision concept which is what Northeast Nova is, and with that direct supervision methodology you are able to provide other opportunities and that’s the gardening and the other programming that’s offered at Northeast, some of it offered in Burnside but not to the extent in Northeast, and it’s really about the base, the infrastructure, and that direct supervision will contribute to those opportunities.
So, the objective is reintegration, to my colleague’s point. That’s what you would like to achieve. These programs are contributing factors in that ability to facilitate that transition back into society and, as an institution, we have that responsibility.
I know, having spent 32 years in policing and having dealt with multiple offenders who were incarcerated in many situations, you’re cognizant of the circumstances that brought them to where they are and the contributing factors as to why they behave as they do, commit the crimes they do and, over multiple occasions, the courts have no options but to put them in with an incarcerated sentence but we, as the institution, still have a responsibility to reintegrate them and those are very challenging circumstances. I’m confident that as we move forward with the direct supervision model of Burnside the same opportunities will be extended to the offender population and the same level of comfort extended to the employee population, to our previous colleague’s question.
That direct supervision model provides so much opportunity and it was refreshing to go to Northeast Nova and see it in effect and see the difference it makes not only with the employees but with the offenders whom we saw interacting, building social skills, and engaging Corrections officers. That was something to actually witness, to be quite honest with you.
MS. MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman, exactly, I felt that Northeast was a really good - it was great to see the difference but it also created a sense of hope that this is something that the other facilities in the province will be able to learn from and perhaps be able to inject as well into their facilities because I think it really has positive dividends. Really, at the end of the day, it has positive dividends in how our offenders will be prepared to integrate again into society, so I hope we can keep up with that program.
I’m going to ask - and forgive me if someone has already asked the question - last year for Boots on the Street the budget was slashed and there was to be a review prepared. I’m just wondering if you could give me an update on whether the review is completed or not, or when it will be. Thank you.
MR. FUREY: The additional officer pogram, the budget impact was in the amount of $437,000. There was no reduction in FTEs. Those were administrative costs and they were absorbed within the department. So, the $16.2 million budget remains in place and funds 132 additional officer positions.
The report that my colleague spoke about, Mr. Chairman, has been submitted to the department in its first draft. There is ongoing dialogue between the department and the authors of that report to bring the final version of that report to fruition. I anticipate that by the end of the year we would have that final report.
MS. MACFARLANE: That’s great information. Just with regard to this, my last question on that would be, how much did the review cost?
MR. FUREY: The contract for the service to do that review and report was approximately $40,000, and there were additional travel costs above and beyond that in the amount of about $5,700, $5,800.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you so much. Maintenance enforcement - I think there are probably a couple of questions that could be answered in one response. I’d like to know how many MEP officers are in Nova Scotia and where they are located in the province, and if you could just give me an approximate idea of how many cases or files each of them would have. Are there large differences in how many files each of them would have?
So, where are they in the province? How many? And how many files would each of them have?
MR. FUREY: As we speak, there were 35 positions in New Waterford when the program was transferred to Cape Breton. In this budget, we have announced five additional positions for the maintenance enforcement program. There are 12 positions here in Halifax, for a total complement of 52 full-time equivalents, or FTEs.
The caseload is hard to determine. The reason I say that is that it differs because of the triaged approach to enforcement. That caseload would vary.
In my first visit after being appointed the Minister of Justice, I went to New Waterford. I spent probably three or four hours there in the workplace talking to employees. I met collectively with them and expressed our commitment to enhancing both the work environment and the work experience. We spoke about the importance of their work and the impact that their work has on families and individuals.
This is another area where I saw the impacts over the course of a career. Those impacts have been significant. We recognize, as a government, that addressing maintenance enforcement and the outstanding debt associated with that program - moneys that are owed to children - the Premier has spoken in this House about how issues between parents should remain issues between parents, and both should prioritize and focus on the child. That is the priority of this government. It is a personal priority of mine.
Just recently we’ve made some legislative changes with the proclamation of past legislation, and new regulations and new policies have strengthened the authority of the maintenance enforcement program to address frequent delinquent payers, with a focus on enhancing the authority and ability and capacity of those individuals who work in maintenance enforcement for the sole purpose of ensuring that, in most cases, mothers and children receive the financial payments that they’re entitled to.
MS. MACFARLANE: I was going to ask, with regard to that whole transition that happened at New Waterford - I know there was a lot of confusion and a lot of people were displaced, really. It sounds like it’s getting back on track. I just want to confirm that it’s back into smooth operation. I’m just wondering, where will those five additional full-time employees that you’re adding to this budget be located?
MR. FUREY: Each of those five positions will be established in New Waterford.
But I do want to speak to my colleague’s point about the transition, the upheaval that that employee group went through, and the impact that it had on the program. Make no bones about it, those were contributing factors to the inability to address those circumstances and the increase in the amount owed or outstanding.
When I spoke with the employees they were very encouraged by the position of our government and the investment of five additional FTEs in the workplace. They saw it as a strong message that we were committed to supporting them and the legislative regulatory and policy changes that we have just recently - I presented to Cabinet today on these very issues, are our priority.
I don’t want my colleague or any of us in the House to think that it’s all smooth sailing now. There are still challenges; there will continue to be challenges in that workforce in New Waterford. They are going to continue to require our support. They are still challenged by the workplace. It’s isolated in where it’s located, so this is a very stressful environment that they work in. Their ability to go for a walk at lunchtime for some fresh air is not readily available because of the nature of the work they do and the level of stress, not only what they are experiencing but their workplace is known and those they engage who are delinquent in payments aren’t always the most pleasant, those types of confrontations take place and we’re aware of that. We want to continue to support this team and the work they do. And I’ll say this - proud of the changes we’ve made, but more work to do.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m sure New Waterford would appreciate the new five positions. Clearly there is work still to be done, as the minister has indicated, and I appreciate that. I think there have been some improvements, just even in my four years in having to help people - and there are a lot of them to help.
I’m just wondering if perhaps the minister can give me a dollar figure on the amount that is actually owed to parents in Nova Scotia.
MR. FUREY: The overall arrears are in the area of $63 million. That’s a significant amount of money. I want to break that down into two elements - there are arrears on active cases, approximately $48.7 million, where there are programs designed and efforts to facilitate payment, and I’ll say this, that has been trending down, that’s the lowest it has been since June 2014; and there are unenforceable arrears in the amount of $14.3 million. Those would be circumstances where people are incarcerated, where individuals are unemployed, or in some cases physically relocated for the sole purpose of avoiding payment. Those circumstances do exist. Those are the numbers associated with outstanding debt to children.
I just want to expand for a moment because I think it’s important for my colleague, but for all of us in the Legislature. You know, in the traditional justice system there has always been - there has to be a separation between the judiciary and government but I would say this, and I say this based on my experience with the judiciary over some 40 years, in the justice system we are seeing unprecedented engagement from the judiciary in solving and addressing societal problems, and I’ll use two examples.
The Wagmatcook Gladue court, wellness court in Wagmatcook that is evolving as we speak and will be open in the new year, the first of its kind, we believe, in Canada, where we had discussions about the components of that court. So, this is a partnership led by the provincial court judge in Port Hawkesbury, I believe, and Chief Bernard in the Wagmatcook First Nation community and the four elements to that court will be the wellness Gladue court, the Provincial Court, and the family court. While I was in Cape Breton at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Symposium, I had the opportunity by chance to engage in a discussion with Chief Bernard and Associate Chief Justice O’Neil of the Supreme Court, Family Division, Nova Scotia, and we talking about the Wagmatcook initiative and Associate Chief Justice O’Neil enquired of both myself and Chief Bernard, would we consider and entertain the opportunity and ability for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court Family Division to sit in that facility and use that facility.
I use that as an example because those are injections and interactions from our judiciary that did not take place in the past. The judiciary did not, they were not active participants, in my experience, in thinking outside the box - and that’s not criticism of them, that’s respect for the division and separation between government and judiciary, an absolutely essential separation.
Those efforts will contribute to our objective, our collective objectives in this Legislature, to ensure that we are able to continue to drive these numbers down and provide the supports that are necessary across the whole subject including court facilities and the opportunity to be in court more often.
MS. MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman, it truly is an overwhelming amount of money and certainly, at the end of the day, we feel for the children who are missing out on this, and money. These are very stressful times. I know I’ve dealt with a lot of constituents and we have been successful on a few cases and some others it’s just we haven’t been as successful, but we’ve always had good discussions and I think great transparency with those that we’ve worked with in employees of the MEP program. So, I just want to go back to - I believe there was a report filed with regard to recommendations through the Ombudsman and I’m just wondering, has the Department of Justice accepted any of those recommendations and actually acted on any of those recommendations and, if so, which ones were they?
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, I’m not sure if it was actually an Ombudsman’s report, but there was a review of the maintenance enforcement program in 2015; 23 of the 27 recommendations have been implemented; two are substantially complete and the other two are under way. We have made great progress on the recommendations. This is an important area to our government, I want to assure you. There has been a tremendous amount of attention, there’s tremendous focus and a tremendous commitment to finding resolution and solutions to families who are impacted by delinquent adults.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank the minister for his answer. I was not aware, so that’s great information to hear that so many of them have been implemented, and there’s just a few more to act on. That’s great.
If I could just go to the new accessibility director. I was very honoured to be able to work with a number of individuals who had a large amount of knowledge and wisdom to provide during those days that we spent in Law Amendments. I think it’s wonderful that Gerry Post is taking on a new role.
I see that the budget for this is $896,000. I’m just wondering, how many staff will be hired out of that budget? Assuming that’s annually, what will the remaining balance be used for?
MR. FUREY: I, too, am pleased with Gerry Post’s presence and leadership in the new Accessibility Directorate. I had the opportunity to join him probably two weeks ago at the new garden on the back side of the QEII complex. I don’t know how to better describe it - the enthusiasm that he displayed and the energy that he displayed for the accessibility community was just unbelievable. I say that because he is absolutely the right person for the position.
In designing the new directorate, we transferred or moved four positions from the Department of Community Services; we added two additional FTEs and just completed the hiring of two senior policy analysts and one research and statistical officer. They will be in place by the end of the first week in November, working out of the Joseph Howe Building within the Department of Justice as they continue their work of making Nova Scotia accessible by 2030.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just to go back, the balance, though, for salaries out of the $896,000 - I’m just wondering, out of that budget, what is going towards salaries? And I’m assuming that the remaining balance is for operational?
MR. FUREY: We don’t have the specific figures but we will secure those numbers for my colleague and ensure that she gets them.
MS. MACFARLANE: I can appreciate that, being a new initiative that the department has started, so I would like to eventually get those numbers and have a look at them, but I certainly realize within a reasonable time.
At this point, I want to give my colleague from Cumberland North some time as well to ask a few questions. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cumberland North.
MS. ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Mr. Chairman, thank you to my colleague for giving me a few minutes. I have a couple of things I just want to bring up.
One is regarding - it’s a little bit of an emotional issue - the recent death of the RCMP officer who was from the Amherst area. I’m wondering, has the minister given any consideration to how we might be able to increase awareness of the “move over” law?
I have a good personal friend in Amherst who is an RCMP officer who, 16 years ago, was actually in a similar situation - Mr. Paul Calder - and was injured quite severely, but survived an accident. He has contacted me in the last week to ask what we could do. He said that there is another province that has the same law and they have signage around the province about the move over law. I’m wondering if the minister has any suggestions of what we can do to make sure Nova Scotians know about the law so that we can prevent any future accidents and deaths for RCMP officers.
MR. FUREY: I appreciate the question because this is a serious discussion. We have to look beyond just police. I think my colleague would agree - first responders, ambulance operators, and fire services who often find themselves, as you would know, Mr. Chairman, in these very “difficult” - would be a mild word - circumstances.
I’ve given some thought myself as to what we can do to improve the safety of these individuals. I’ve talked to - believe me, former colleagues from the police community have approached me and expressed similar circumstances - not quizzing you but offering their own thoughts. I know, having been there, I listened to a media interview of a retired police officer not long after Constable Deschenes’ death and he talked about himself being roadside and not really attentive to the vehicle traffic, but spoke about - and the language he used - as the vehicle passed pulled his drawers off. He was referring to the draft that the vehicle was creating as it drove by. I knew exactly what he was talking about because I’ve been there. You wouldn’t normally notice that other than that you would stop and realize for that split second, oh my God, that vehicle was close.
I have talked to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal because I think one of the elements that we don’t have in the move over law is the same protection afforded to tow truck drivers. That’s an avenue that we continue to explore because if you look at any set of circumstances on the side of a road, more often than not, the police and the ambulance and the fire services will arrive, and they’ll do what they have to do and, guess who is left there by themselves to ensure that that vehicle is removed? It’s the tow truck driver.
I think we have an opportunity to broaden that piece of legislation to incorporate tow truck drivers; I believe my colleagues on both sides of the House would see that to be a reasonable next step.
It’s interesting that you mention signage because I have heard about the signage; I haven’t actually seen it. I do want to explore that option and that opportunity. But I think there may be other elements that are important to build on this piece of legislation. To me, it only seems like yesterday that it went in, and I understood it immediately, and I make a point myself to abide by that legislation and take great pleasure in slowing down the person behind me because we all see people who continue to neglect the legislation and continue at high rates of speed, and they don’t move over and those circumstances do present a risk to those first responders on the side of the road.
I would say this - if my colleague has other methods of opportunities to improve this piece of legislation, I would welcome that. I would welcome that from any of our colleagues here in the House.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: It is an emotional topic. Even on my drive in on Sunday evening, there were four vehicles between Amherst and Halifax stopped on the side of the road. Two of the vehicles had RCMP cars stopped to help them, but these motorists had either a flat tire or were broken down. There were four in those two hours that I passed, and not every time were people pulling over and slowing down to 60 kilometres an hour.
I get emotional because of my good friend who was hit and almost killed 16 years ago. It’s so senseless; it’s unnecessary, and it doesn’t have to happen if motorists would just abide by the law and slow down and move over. It’s such a simple thing to do. We do need to do something. Hopefully the Department of Justice can work with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to look at this issue so we can make sure that there are no more accidents.
Another topic that I did want to bring up on behalf of officers in Cumberland North, who have spoken to me directly, is about the upcoming legislation for legalization of marijuana. My colleagues probably already addressed this, so I apologize if it’s repetitive, but this is something that RCMP officers and police officers in the Town of Amherst have asked me to bring up - what is the department planning to do for testing of roadside drug use? Right now, they have tests for alcohol with the breathalyzer, but they don’t feel they have the tools to test and enforce if somebody was driving under the influence of drugs. I’m not sure if there is a plan in place, so I’m wondering if you might be able to answer that question - if the minister could.
MR. FUREY: I spoke earlier - I’m just looking for my notes so I can share the details - there are existing programs that I spoke about, the Drug Recognition Expert program, which is a program where officers are trained to identify symptoms of drug consumption and drug impairment and, through that program, able to do a roadside screening, for lack of a better term, that would give them the evidence they need to pursue charges of impairment by drugs.
I also mentioned earlier, in previous discussions, that there is a saliva swab pilot project that Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP in HRM are utilizing. It’s an expensive option, about $3,000 per kit. My understanding is that there is an effort to find the technology, to identify technology much similar to the evolution of the original breathalyzer machine when drinking and driving first was being addressed, and trying to find the mechanism and a tool that could detect alcohol at that time, and of course marijuana or cannabis at this time.
There are opportunities, as I was saying to my colleague earlier when we spoke about this, Nova Scotia has the highest per capita of drug recognition-trained officers in the country - 61 is the number I believe we’re at. Now there’s a recertification element to that every two years. The initial training is about $6,000 per officer and there would be significant costs to the recertification, so it’s an expensive program to continue but it’s a valuable and worthwhile program.
As I indicated in those previous discussions, the police forces - both our provincial police service and the RCMP and our municipal police services - are absorbing the costs of those trainings from within their budgets. So it’s a valuable program. We’re well-positioned, as I indicated to my colleague from Queens-Shelburne earlier, in order to do a thorough analysis of a greater need for that program. We just don’t want to arbitrarily say we need 25 more or 40 more or 50 more, we want to be able to substantiate that, and it would be the data that we see once the legislation is implemented that would allow us to do that analysis and determine what additional support would be warranted and reasonable, given those circumstances. This is a big concern for us and I know my colleagues, active in their own communities, have relationships with law enforcement, so we value this feedback.
The other piece of this that’s important, the Premier himself has elevated this to the Council of Federation, his provincial colleagues from across the country - provinces and territories. They have identified and highlighted the need to address road safety elements of the legislation. There’s going to be a cost associated with that and there has to be an ability to detect. So that work continues at the highest level.
As the lead minister in the province, I sit on a committee of provincial colleagues from across the country who are in the process of compiling information for November 1st to present to the Premiers and they, in turn, present to the federal government to ensure that these areas are being addressed. So, I value the question, it’s an important element of the discussion, and we will continue to keep this topical.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the minister for the response.
Just in the short time we have left, I might just bring up another issue of concern and give you a chance to respond and that is with regard to underage drinking and underage use of drugs. I know that right now it is illegally used marijuana. But I am concerned and I do have four children of my own, so I lived it first-hand.
One of the concerns I have is there is a culture among a certain percentage of parents that feel it is okay and to support their children and provide them safe areas to partake in the activity.
Anyway, I am just curious if there is any desire by your department to have some sort of campaign that would discourage - I just remember when I was young there was a war against drugs and it worked for me. I am terrified of drugs; I hate drugs. And drugs were bad - there was a strong message sent at a young age all through the school system that drugs are bad and drugs will kill you.
I am wondering, is there any desire by the Department of Justice to work on something like this in the future?
MR. FUREY: Public awareness, public education is an important element. It is one of the five factors that the Premier has elevated to the Council of Federation to challenge the federal government in this area.
There is a cost associated to those types of necessary initiatives. I hear you loud and clear. I remember my son coming home - actually he didn’t come home, I got a call from the school vice-principal who said I might want to take a trip to the school and pick up my child. I thought for sure he was talking about my daughter. It was my son, which surprised the heck out of me, so I went to the school and picked my son up and I headed right to the police station. They would have a new client, but to his luck they were on another call and they couldn’t respond to me. I had to deal with it myself and I remember driving home and said to him, inquired, and he wasn’t speaking about friends or sources of product. I said fine, I am taking your skates and, when you talk to me, you will get them back.
Well that is all I had to do. I got the information I needed. But I think it is . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please. The time has expired for the PC caucus. We will now move to the NDP caucus - and they may choose to let you carry on.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CLAUDIA CHENDER: Sorry to interrupt. But I guess I want to start just after recognizing the question that the member for Cumberland North brought and your response, to just take a moment and for lack of a better technical term “give a shout- out” to my colleague, the member for Sackville-Cobequid, who did introduce that legislation that required motorists to pull over in 2004.
I respect that we are now talking about enforcement. It is certainly an issue that has been in this House for a long time and one that we, along with everyone else, are very concerned about.
I would like to ask a few more questions around the treatment of women in the justice system and in the correctional system more specifically.
First, I want to understand, and I did have this conversation a little bit with some of the staff when we were at Burnside but I would like to hear an answer again to the question, why are pregnant inmates brought from the Burnside jail to prenatal appointments in shackles and jumpsuits?
The response I got to that was that there are genuine flight risks. I suppose that is true to some extent with any inmate; however, I suspect that there may be other ways to deal with those risks, particularly knowing that there are some women who choose not to attend those appointments at all because of the humiliation of being brought into the hospital in that way. So I am wondering if the minister would speak to that.
MR. FUREY: I want to apologize to my Progressive Conservative colleague who left; I didn’t realize we were at the end of the time.
To me, this is a common sense, sound judgment approach. The dignity of these individuals has to be respected. Yes, there may exist flight risks, but the reality of it is - and I would say, a case-by-case basis may be consideration where absolutely necessary, but I think it’s an area that we can collectively find a solution.
MS. CHENDER: I’m glad to hear that because my understanding currently is that it is not a case-by-case basis, but that that is the common practice. I guess we’ll check in about that and I’ll look forward to hearing some progress, hopefully, in that area.
Another question around pregnant inmates - pregnant women at Burnside, like all women at Burnside, are denied access to the Internet. Without taking a cheap shot, I’ll just say we know this government has a fondness for Internet surveys and using the Internet in a variety of ways but, in this case, we know that now all prenatal programming in Nova Scotia is online. Even when I had my children five and six years ago, I had the opportunity to go to a local community - like a library or somewhere like that and receive weeks of prenatal training.
That option is no longer available; it is all online and therefore pregnant inmates who by definition are already disadvantaged when it comes to, I would say, in most cases providing for their children, parenting, et cetera, are doubly disadvantaged by not having access to this programming. I’m wondering what the minister intends to do about this or if there is a way that women could have access.
MR. FUREY: This is a great point and if I can paraphrase where I’m going here - the whole issue of access to the Internet is a security issue within our facilities. Having said that, the health and well-being of those in facilities is a public safety element that we want to see through a therapeutic restorative approach to justice. So, what we will commit to do is when the renovations at Burnside are complete, there will be tablets and Internet available for these individuals in these circumstances. I think that’s an appropriate solution to the concern that you’ve expressed.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you to the minister. I know that will be warmly appreciated by those advocating for those women, and by us as well.
Further, I’m hoping that the minister can tell me when incarcerated women will have support from actual public health nurses, or if that is contemplated.
MR. FUREY: It was my recollection in our visit that there were nurses from Capital Health available in the facility - and I have just been able to confirm that. That element is there and available. There are also doulas in the facility present and available to pregnant inmates.
If I understand it correctly, the need for offsite would be for specialist services that would not normally be available outside of a specialist environment. I think every effort is made to accommodate our pregnant inmates and have those resources onsite.
MS. CHENDER: A question often doesn’t get asked because people don’t like to ask it, but I’m going to go ahead and do it now that we have a House that may be more able to personally understand this issue. An issue that we hear a lot about from advocates of incarcerated women is a lack of access to feminine hygiene products. I’m wondering if the minister can tell us how women access those products when they are incarcerated and whether that’s an appropriate situation or if there are plans to fix that.
MR. FUREY: It’s my understanding that these products are purchased by the facilities and made available. If my colleague has specific circumstances, we would certainly want to explore that, but our understanding is that the products are available and distributed.
MS. CHENDER: We have heard otherwise from a number of organizations, and I’ll make sure to forward that information to your department.
This is a somewhat bigger question, but I would appreciate the minister’s thoughts. We know that many, many, many incarcerated women - often called “offenders,” but that’s an issue we’ll deal with when we get to talking about remand, but for now we’ll call them “inmates” - convicted of a crime or not, are victims. The vast majority of them have, in their lives, suffered from sexual or physical abuse; many have drug issues. Over the years, they find themselves stuck in a cycle of going in and out and in and out and in and out of correctional facilities.
The minister and I met a young woman who, we were told, had been in Burnside for the better part of 10 years. Now, we all know you can’t be at Burnside for 10 years, but we were told that she would get out and two weeks later she’d be in, and she’d get out and three weeks later she’d be in.
I guess my question is, is the department looking at that in any kind of a systemic way, with the notion that we want to take a therapeutic, restorative approach to justice? How is that being actualized in the department to help break this cycle?
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is a broad issue that I know resonates with my colleague out of questions around our correctional facilities. But I think it has been identified that in many cases there are contributing factors as to why females are in these facilities, and that they have been victimized over many years and many incidents.
This goes back to a societal issue and the disrespect of the female gender, the frequency of sexual assaults, the behaviours that we’re seeing too frequently - just one is too many. I speak often about the sexual assault strategy that the province has adopted; our Aboriginal justice strategy, which is focused on the Aboriginal community; and the efforts made through the restorative justice program.
We’ve heard loud and clear from those groups that represent the female population that we have to provide better supports to victims of sexual assault. The Domestic Violence Court in Sydney which is now permanent; the new Domestic Violence Court in Halifax; and the addition of two special prosecutors within the Public Prosecution Service who deal exclusively with sexual assaults and mentor and train their colleagues and handle some of that caseload themselves - these are all directed at addressing those various issues.
I know there’s more that can be done, and we will endeavour to work in that vein to ensure that we are breaking the cycle of this behaviour so that we don’t see those outcomes, that those individuals are repetitive offenders and find themselves committing serious crimes to which the courts apply a sentence of incarceration.
There’s a lot of work to do, but I believe we’re on the right track with the strategies we’ve taken. I know this area is of special interest to all of us in the Legislature, but the high number of female legislators and the passion that I’ve seen each of you express in this area is important. I value your feedback and your injection of ideas that we could continue to build on to mitigate some of these circumstances.
MS. CHENDER: I’m both happy and slightly depressed by the fact that it takes the presence of women to acknowledge the needs of women, but I guess that’s the world we live in. So I thank the minister for his comments.
Last in this area, you spoke a little bit about some initiatives around breaking that cycle in a pre-emptive way and as we move through, but I wonder if the minister has concerns about the level of community-based supports provided to women upon release from custody. We know that’s a huge concern and we hear from community groups and advocates all the time that there are not enough supports and that those supports are not funded fully enough.
MR. FUREY: I missed the first part of my colleague’s question and I don’t want to assume what the question was. I’m wondering if I could ask her to repeat it.
MS. CHENDER: My question is about community-based supports to women when they are released from incarceration and whether the minister feels like those are sufficient or if there are concerns about those supports themselves and/or the funding for those.
MR. FUREY: There are some mechanisms in place, as we speak, around the availability of those resources - addiction workers, social workers, probation officers and several initiatives within the community that facilitate the transition back into the community. Those initiatives are targeting the highest-risk offenders for services and they are working with community partners to build on those services and the reintegration back into the community. It’s an important element.
We’ll continue with those discussions. I think there are some good initiatives under way now, as we speak. As these strategies roll out I think there’s an opportunity to make connections between the objectives of those strategies and specific elements of society and I’ll use the population within our facilities as one of those elements that would be considered at high risk and a need for greater attention.
MS. CHENDER: So, turning to restorative justice, I just had a couple of questions. Last year your government announced an expansion of the Restorative Justice Program to include adults, but the budget before and after this announcement has remained flat. In 2015-16, before the announced expansion, the forecast was $2.6 million; last year’s actual was $2.6 million; and, again, we see budgeted $2.6 million. I’m wondering how this program is expanding without additional funding.
MR. FUREY: The flexibility within the Restorative Justice Program and the effectiveness of the Restorative Justice Program I think allows for significant progress without any substantive amount of money. As an example, since January I believe we have adopted the Restorative Justice Program in the adult population - it was originally with youth. We are leaders in the country in restorative justice, 600 cases alone since the adult transition. So that in itself, at no additional cost, the savings in the court system alone, the time and the money expended, those are significant numbers that we have been able to facilitate and apply in that very constructive approach.
MS. CHENDER: We may not be able to finish this but we could resume it in the morning and, I guess, my question that I’ll probably end up leaving you with is, how do we take 600 more cases without any increase in funding? Recognizing that we’re saving the court system and other areas of the budget money which is great and I would like to ask about that, but we’re looking at one envelope here around restorative justice. So, I don’t understand where the savings and kind of recovery for more work comes from.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman, a great question and important to clarify. What we’ve found is that there was capacity in the community restorative justice agencies because of a declining youth involvement. So, youth crimes are going down; there’s greater capacity there. We didn’t cut from the program, we were actually able to expand the program and extend and utilize those resources for the adult population.
MS. CHENDER: Okay. That’s great to hear. I guess my follow-up question is I’d love to see where, if there are any stats related to, you know, how many people were successfully diverted and any ideas around what those cost savings to the court system or areas of the justice budget are or hypothetically would be.
MR. FUREY: Mr. Chairman. I think the clock is going to kill us, but we can continue the discussion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Time for debate on Supply this afternoon has ended.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I move that the committee do now rise and report progress to the House and beg leave to sit again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:12 p.m.]