MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the committee to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Chairman, I would like to call the estimates of the Department of Justice and related agencies.
Resolution E11 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $116,467,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Assembly. Before I begin my comments this morning I would like to introduce senior staff who are here with me today from the Department of Justice. To my right is the
Department of Justice Deputy Minister, Doug Keefe, who has been with the department for a number of years, and the Executive Director of Finance and Administration, Mr. Clarence Guest, who as well has been with the Department of Justice for quite some time. In the gallery are several other members of the Department of Justice who are here today to answers questions and concerns, if the need be, and we will call upon them if it is required.
Mr. Chairman, before I begin I would like to mention first of all that it has been a real honour to be asked to take the position of Attorney General and Minister of Justice for the Province of Nova Scotia. I think all of us here in the House would agree that you never know where your path in life will take you and, as a police officer checking doors at 3:00 a.m. in Springhill, I never quite saw myself sitting as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice but, however, here I am.
I also will always be aware of the fact that throughout all of our lives we always question ourselves and question other folks in regard to decisions that are made, policies that are implemented, and decisions made in regard to different issues that affect our lives, and certainly I, like other police officers and other folks in the justice system, am no different, so I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and to be part of this great opportunity.
As well, Mr. Chairman, I would like to say that after assuming the office in February, after getting to know the folks in the department and the other related agencies, my deputy and I, along with some other staff, took it upon ourselves to begin a tour of the province. It didn't last long enough. We only had an opportunity to visit four or five locations, but in those journeys I travelled from Cumberland County all the way south into Halifax, and we travelled from Yarmouth all the way to Cape Breton.
Mr. Chairman, I can tell you we met with folks in police agencies, in the courts, probation, corrections, Court Services and many others who work for the Department of Justice. I can tell you that I've been truly impressed with the level of confidence and professionalism that has been shown by staff in the Department of Justice throughout this province. I want to publicly commend them here today for that.
As well, Mr. Chairman, I had an opportunity to travel to Ottawa on one occasion, as the minister, to represent and make presentations to two federal ministers in regard to issues that affect us here in this province. I want you to know that officials in the Department of Justice, whether it's corrections, whether it's the Public Prosecution Service, whether it's whatever other initiatives in the department are, this province is recognized nationally for the leadership role it has taken in many, many initiatives. I don't think Nova Scotians are aware of that, but they should be.
They should know that this Department of Justice and the officials who lead it are leaders in many initiatives that are recognized, again, across Canada by other jurisdictions, and, in fact, in Ottawa. There are things that are happening that the folks in Ottawa, on the federal side, are waiting for decisions and for processes to be completed as a result of initiatives started here, which I'm sure will have a huge impact on their policy that they will implement for years to come in Ottawa.
Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to be here today to discuss the budget and the initiatives of the Department of Justice. I'd like to start by offering an overview of our activities which are directed at ensuring excellence in the administration of justice, as well as our efforts to improve the safety and security of Nova Scotian communities. The Department of Justice is committed to the fair and effective administration of justice and to excellence in service to the people of Nova Scotia. To accomplish its mandate, the department provides services through seven divisions, and those are: Policing and Victim Services, Court Services, Correctional Services, Legal Services, Human Resources, Information Management, and, finally, Finance and Administration.
Mr. Chairman, as well, I'm responsible for a variety of other agencies providing important services to the people of this province. These include the Human Rights Commission, an independent government agency charged with administering Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act. Under the authority of the Act, the commission focuses on two core business functions: resolving complaints of discrimination, and public education and outreach.
As members of this House are aware, Mayann Francis, the current CEO of the commission, was recently appointed as Nova Scotia's Lieutenant Governor. Ms. Francis has done an excellent job in her work with the commission, and I'm sure she will bring that same dedication and talent to her new role as the Queen's representative in Nova Scotia. We would like to commend her at this time, I'm sure on behalf of all the members of this Legislature, on her accomplishments to this part in her life.
Mr. Chairman, I'm also responsible for the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal, an independent agency that operates separately from the Workers' Compensation Board. The tribunal hears appeals on the final decisions of hearing officers from the board. It is the final level of appeal within the workers' compensation system in Nova Scotia.
As I mentioned earlier, the department effectively manages daily operations of the justice system through a number of core business areas. Our Policing and Victim Services programs are directed at improving public safety and security. Through this division, we provide oversight, governance and advice to police, private security services, and firearms licence holders. For example, our policing services division acts in an advisory role to all police services and managing the contracts with the RCMP and
First Nation policing. We strengthen policing initiatives through the development of standards and training in partnership with stakeholders.
My department also provides assistance to victims of crime. We work with justice partners in the community to deliver programs that address the needs of crime victims. Direct services for victims are provided through four core programs: the Provincial Victim Services Program, the Criminal Injuries Counselling Program, the Victim Impact Statement Program, and the Child Victim/Witness Program. Our Court Services division provides civil law, criminal law and family court services. These services include court administration and management, small claims, bankruptcy law adjudication, security and transport of prisoners to and from court, restorative justice for diverting offences involving youth, and Justices of the Peace.
The department operates approximately 35 courthouses, and court administration is managed through 14 Justice Centres across Nova Scotia. The division also manages the Maintenance Enforcement Program, with eight offices across Nova Scotia. The Correctional Services division provides community- based corrections including adult diversion measures, court information, offender supervision, and reintegration programs; custody-based corrections involves facility operations, and reintegration programs and planning.
The department operates five adult correctional facilities, one youth correctional facility in Waterville, and a satellite youth detention facility for short-term accommodation in Sydney. Twenty-two community corrections offices also operate across the province. Overall, there are approximately 10,000 court-ordered admissions to corrections services on an annual basis. Legal Services, at the department, represent the Crown and its agencies before courts, tribunals, and support alternative dispute resolution. Solicitor services include legal advice to the Crown and its agencies, corporate council services, drafting regulations and legislation, law reform and legislation support, and client education.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as well falls under the Department of Justice. Investigations are held into all deaths due to violence, coupled with negligence and sudden unexplained deaths. We also coordinate the administration of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Mr. Chairman, I would now like to outline out priorities for the department for 2006-07. We've established our priorities for the coming year under four strategic goals: a justice system that is properly administered and cost-effective; to ensure there is public confidence in the justice system; to ensure that people feel safe and are secure; and people make constructive choices.
Over the next year we will initiate and continue to implement activities directed at helping us achieve these very goals. Mr. Chairman, the safety and security of our citizens will continue to be a high priority over the coming year. Crime and its effect are a growing concern across Canada and here in Nova Scotia - it is a complex issue and we are working on initiatives that address both law enforcement and the root causes of crime.
This year's budget includes additional funding for officers to address Internet and technology-based offences including child pornography; it also supports efforts to track serial offenders. An additional $685,000 is being provided to police as part of our $6 million commitment to Criminal Intelligence Service Nova Scotia. This funding will improve coordination amongst the RCMP and municipal police forces in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Chairman, illegal drugs are one of the examples of the areas that we want to target. The province is now working with law enforcement and other key partners to create a comprehensive drug strategy tailored to meet the needs of Nova Scotians. This strategy is focusing on prevention, enforcement, reduction of harms, and treatment. We are supporting this plan with the introduction of legislation to put strict controls in place, or introducing new penalties. The Act to combat the production and use of illegal drugs will allow government to regulate the storage, transportation, distribution, and the sale of ingredients, materials, and equipment used in production and use of illegal drugs in this province - this initiative requires people to notify authorities when they become aware of the loss or theft of certain ingredients, materials, or equipment.
Mr. Chairman, $540,000 has also been designated for the creation of a public safety investigation unit under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act. Under this Act complaints from community members can result in court orders to close locations that are home to prostitution, illegal liquor, drugs or gaming. Citizens can also register their concerns about buildings that are unusually fortified. The new initiative unit will target criminal activities including the sale of illegal drugs and alcohol, prostitution, and illegal gambling, as I have said. This unit will follow up on complaints, and work with community members on their concerns - this has been welcomed by police as a valuable support to their very gallant efforts.
Mr. Chairman, indeed, effective policing is a vital attribute of safe and strong communities. In January, the Police Act came into effect, a piece of legislation that supports policing services in Nova Scotia. Good governance is critical to effective policing, and this legislation supports a clear connection between governance and policing service. It better defines the roles and responsibilities of the minister, police chefs and municipal police boards. It also authorizes the creation of police advisory boards and communities served by the RCMP to provide advice to the RCMP and municipalities regarding law enforcement and crime prevention.
We've also created the Nova Scotia Police Review Board. This board merged the police commission with the existing review board to ensure services are provided as efficiently and effectively as possible. We've been very careful to ensure procedures for investigating and resolving complaints remain consistent with the fundamental principles of justice. The initiative also touches on other policing issues including the power and authority of police officers in internal discipline procedures. The new Police Act and regulations provide a strong foundation for policing and for governance in our province, allowing us to continue our professional and progressive public-safety initiatives.
The Act was developed in consultation with our partners in policing. I thank them again for their input in this very valuable initiative. Mr. Chairman, both the Act and the regulations are a solid example of the exceptional collaboration we are enjoying amongst our policing partners in this province.
Mr. Chairman, I'm very proud, as well, of another imitative welcomed by police, the Electronic Supervision Program, supported by $400,000 in this year's budget. We have undertaken this project in partnership with the Public Prosecution Service, Correctional Services, municipal police, and the RCMP to enhance conditional sentence monitoring and enforcement. Nova Scotia is a leader in this area as the first jurisdiction to use global positioning technology to track offenders serving sentences in the community anywhere in Canada.
One of the goals of our government is to build a stronger, safer Nova Scotia. A province where the law, security and consequences are taken very seriously. The electronic supervision of offenders is an important step toward the larger goal of enhancing public safety in our province. With this new sentencing option we now have offenders in the community being monitored with this new technology. We expect this to be used more and more as an effective tool to monitor offenders who are required to serve all or part of their sentence in the community.
Mr. Chairman, we also recently introduced and proclaimed the Corrections Act, a bill that reinforces safety and security of Nova Scotians. It also recognizes the changing nature of what is really the last line of defence in our criminal justice system. To date, most people being held in custody are either on remand or they are the more hard-core offender doing more serious time. About 40 per cent of those being held in custody are in remand waiting to appear in court. The offenders who likely would have been held in custody three or four years ago are now in the community because of the more frequent use of conditional sentences. This places added responsibility on our managers and staff. This legislation helps make sure the public, our staff and inmates are as safe as possible while holding offenders accountable.
The legislation also provides greater protection for victims and their families. Corrections staff would be able to tell them where an offender is being held in custody, the terms of a conditional release or parole, and other details surrounding the offender's release. Another provision will make it mandatory for people to provide information to probation officers so they can prepare their pre-sentence reports for court. It is absolutely critical that the court be made aware of any circumstance that would assist in proper sentencing.
The Act also defines procedures to protect the dignity and privacy of female offenders. It spells out very clearly that every female offender in a correctional facility be supervised by a female employee, and, by law, they must be held in custody in a separate unit from male offenders. The amendments to this Act mark the first substantive change in close to 20 years. The new Act allows us to modernize our services to recognize challenging needs and issues related to today's offender population.
Mr. Chairman, an area of concern for many Nova Scotians, as well for myself, and I know from members opposite - we've discussed it on many occasions - is youth crime in this province, something that has been highlighted by the death of Theresa McEvoy. My department announced a public inquiry to look into the events which preceded her death, and testimony was completed in June. We are now waiting for the final report from inquiry commissioner Merlin Nunn.
While that inquiry will provide valuable insight and recommendations on how we can further improve our youth justice system, we've already taken steps to enhance our services. Mr. Chairman, $450,000 is being invested to develop an attendance centre to provide an improved response to youth who are in conflict with the law. The attendance centre will be coordinated by Justice and will provide such services as teachers to provide academic instruction to high-risk, high-needs youth; community supervision services; social workers and councillors; mental health services; parent support groups; community services work opportunities; job search and resumé preparation programming; and programming including anger management, cognitive skills and substance abuse, along with others.
We have seen the excellent progress that can be made with youth who receive services at the Waterville Youth Facility, and look forward to expanding these services into the community at the attendance centre.
At the same time, we and many others continue to have concerns about some elements of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I have, and I will continue to press the federal government for amendments that would deal more effectively with the small number of out- of-control youth that cannot be adequately served under the current Act.
We also recognize that police need support in their efforts to monitor people on bail in the community. An additional $200,000 has also been designated to support police in their bail supervision activities for both youth and adults.
Mr. Chairman, the activities I just described are all critical to our efforts to enhance the safety of our communities. However, this takes a coordinated effort, uniting many voices and incorporating the ideas of both experts and lay people. In May, I announced the creation of a Minister's Task Force on Safer Streets and Communities. The goal of the task force is to look at community programs, government services, legislation, and policing best practices across Nova Scotia and in other jurisdictions to identify and promote programs and actions that are making a positive impact in communities.
Mr. Chairman, the task force will identify ways to support communities in their efforts to make improvements and to address situations that have a negative impact on their neighbourhoods. The end result will be a provincial crime prevention strategy developed through community consultation and locally-driven crime prevention action plans.
Over the coming months, we will invite the co-operation and assistance of other parties, such as community leaders, law enforcement, councillors, school officials and others. Our goal is to take this input, along with a review of successful programs and legislation in other jurisdictions, to consider how we can complement and enhance our existing programs.
Another priority for the year will be continued improvement of the infrastructure of the justice system. Justice is one of the largest tenants in government, occupying highly- specialized space. Major infrastructure initiatives include continued planning and construction of the Lunenburg County Justice Centre and the Yarmouth Justice Centre.
Early this year I had the opportunity to review the plans for these new centres and to meet with community members in Lunenburg and Yarmouth. I know they are keen participants in the development of these facilities and are looking forward to the new level of service that will be provided at these centres. For the first time in these communities, all justice-related services will be under one roof in modern new buildings. As well, we look forward to renovating the New Glasgow Justice Centre, and we're developing proposals to address aging correctional facilities in northern Nova Scotia.
The security of our facilities is critical for the safety of both staff and clients. We recently began a review of court facilities across the province to examine our security policies and procedures. While we routinely assess our security practices, this review will provide a thorough analysis of our procedures to ensure we are taking all necessary steps to protect people in our facilities. Consultation is a major element of the project, and we
are seeking the input of the judiciary, lawyers, staff, the public, police and all facility users.
Mr. Chairman, we believe that all Nova Scotians should have access to safe and timely legal services. My department is committed to improving our ability to provide services in French, with a number of initiatives underway in this area. French services, including support for French trials, continue to be available for all criminal cases. If a French-speaking person wants to access court services in their language and no French-speaking staff are present, core staff will work with French-speaking staff in another location to provide service in French. New initiatives in this area include the hiring of a department French services coordinator. Our coordinator will begin in August and will work closely with our existing French Language Services committee. We're also starting French language training for several staff members this Fall. All these activities are directed at ensuring Nova Scotians are able to access services in both official languages.
Mr. Chairman, we're also working to ensure Nova Scotians have access to legal services when they need them, regardless of their financial situation. This year's budget includes an additional $700,000 for legal aid services. These new funds will help hundreds more Nova Scotians gain access to legal services when required, and new funding will also ensure speedier trials and the resolution of issues in the courts. This investment is another demonstration of our commitment to legal aid in this province. The level of provincial funding continues to grow, quickly surpassing the federal contribution. At one time legal aid was cost-shared by the federal and provincial governments, now Nova Scotia provides far more funding for this vital service. I continue to press my federal counterparts to restore the 50/50 funding which would have a huge impact on our ability to provide legal aid services to vulnerable Nova Scotians.
Mr. Chairman, another critical service provided to Nova Scotians is the Maintenance Enforcement Program. This program began in 1996 to address the difficulties experienced by spouses and children who were not receiving their court-ordered maintenance payments. Last year we collected approximately $53 million on behalf of clients - this is out of approximately the $67 million owed by payers, which represents a 78 per cent collection rate. This rate compares favourably with other Canadian jurisdictions.
We have also made improvements to enhance services to our clients. This includes the development of a reciprocal unit so that all reciprocal cases, cases from out-of-province, will be managed by the central unit. Having this function handled centrally instead of spread across the province should improve service for our clients. We have also added more staff to work on enforcing these orders, and are conducting a review of all files to remove those which are no longer active, allowing us to dedicate our resources more effectively.
The Maintenance Enforcement Program has a significant impact on the lives of Nova Scotians involved in maintenance orders. We have made a number of program or legislative improvements since it was introduced 10 years ago, and we continue to work towards ensuring we have the best system possible.
Mr. Chairman, we're also undertaking an evaluation of another critical process for Nova Scotians - the Domestic Violence Intervention Act, which has been in force since April 2003 and allows victims to apply for a 30-day emergency protection order. We are conducting an evaluation of the Act and related processes in respect to this in protecting victims of domestic violence. The consultants concluded that the Act is successful in accomplishing its goals, that victims feel safer and appear to be safer. Our partners also had a great deal of input into the evaluation, and the review showed that they consider it a useful tool in helping to address domestic violence. We will review the recommendations made, in detail, and provide a response regarding implementation. We have provided the Transition House Association with an overview and expect to release the full report in short order.
Mr. Chairman, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service works hard for the people of this province, representing the public interest in criminal proceedings. I remind you that Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service was established in 1990 under the Public Prosecutions Act as the first independent prosecution service in Canada. It employs 88 Crown Attorneys and has a total staff of 151 in 19 offices across Nova Scotia. Our Crown Attorneys handle about 40,000 cases every year - last year these included more than 50 murders and attempted murders; more than 300 robberies; 300 sexual assaults; about 1,300 break and enters; and about 3,000 thefts - it has prosecuted these cases on a budget of approximately $17.5 million.
In addition to prosecuting all Criminal Code offences in Nova Scotia, the Public Prosecution Service is responsible for prosecuting cases involving violations of provincial Statutes. Last year the Public Prosecution Service prosecuted about 4,500 such cases. The Public Prosecution Service also appeals decisions made by the courts where the service determines the court has made an error in law - last year the Public Prosecution Service was involved in 45 appeals.
Since its establishment over 50 years ago, it has prosecuted cases that have garnered national attention, and national controversy to be sure. As a service, the Public Prosecution Service delivers quality front-line prosecution services and continues to sharpen its skills and expertise in major and complex cases. With regard to our hard-working team of Crown Attorneys, I remind you that in February 2000 we saw a labour relations milestone in this province - an agreement was reached with the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys' Association on a salary setting mechanism. With that agreement in place, the government and the Crown Attorneys' Association are free to negotiate annual salary increases. Continued education for full-time and per-diem Crown Attorneys, as
well as support staff, remains a priority in order to enhance the level of expertise within the Public Prosecution Service and the resulting quality of prosecution services.
A significant investment has been made in education and training during the fiscal year - specifically the Public Prosecution Service funded the attendance of Crown Attorneys at the Federation of Law Societies of Canada National Criminal Law Program; the Crown Attorney Annual Conference and the Public Prosecution Service Support Staff Annual Seminar, held this year at Western Shore, Nova Scotia; the participation of several Crown Attorneys at the Ontario Crown Attorneys' Association Summer School program, a valuable professional development opportunity made available to the Public Prosecution Service through the kind co-operation of the Ontario minister, the Attorney General.
They also funded an advocacy training program for new and per-diem Crown Attorneys; continued to train Public Prosecution Service staff in the use of the prosecution information composite system; continued to provide training to all Crown Attorneys on the new Youth Criminal Justice Act; and provided training to Crown Attorneys on the government's Family Violence Prevention Initiative - as well, continued additional training is required on new Public Prosecution Service policies - and supported the requirements of the Education Development Committee to ensure that Public Prosecution Service staff receive required training.
Mr. Chairman, the Public Prosecution Service also participates at the national level. The Director of Public Prosecution continues to meet regularly with heads of prosecutions from jurisdictions across Canada, to share information and to collaborate on common initiatives.
I would like to turn to the challenges that are facing the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service. Many of the major cases require extensive work by Crown Attorneys preparing cases for court. These are often complex, Charter challenges to the proceedings. There are usually dozens of witnesses to be interviewed and prepared for the experience of giving evidence in court, and there are always expert witnesses' reports to be studied and digested. More and more often DNA evidence is introduced in court, requiring extensive preparation by Crown counsel. Major cases are complex and high profile. Public safety and the public perception of the justice system are influenced by the outcome of these cases. The Public Prosecution Service makes it a practice to assign at least two Crown Attorneys to each major case, at least one being a senior Crown Attorney - this is essential in order to professionally respond to the demands of these difficult cases.
The Public Prosecution Service early resolution initiative in the Halifax region, implemented last year, has experienced success. A senior Crown Attorney is assigned to review files as they come in to flag those which look as though they may be easily resolved, or even discontinued. A letter is placed in the file from the Crown, outlining an acceptable sentence in the event of a guilty plea. The Crown's position is made known to the accused in the disclosure process and may encourage an early resolution.
At the same time, Halifax is now mirroring a long-standing Dartmouth approach to cell matters. Instead of a different Crown handling cell matters every day in Halifax Provincial Court, one Crown handles all cell matters every day for an entire month. The ability to dedicate a single Crown for an entire month gives the Crown Attorney additional time to try to resolve matters early, where possible. The Crown has no other responsibilities other than those cell matters presently before him or her.
Government initiatives to combat organized crime are expected to result in an increase in the number of major prosecutions. The service must have the resources to respond to the demands of these major prosecutions. Some such cases are handled by the members of the service's special prosecutions section - the Crown Attorneys and the special prosecutions section do not have regular court assignments, thus have the time necessary to devote to major prosecutions. The permanent staff complement of the Special Prosecutions Section entails a Chief Crown Attorney and eight Crown Attorneys. This complement can handle only a small percentage of the major prosecutions conducted each year. When major cases are conducted by Crown Attorneys other than those in the Special Prosecutions Section they cannot also be responding to the demands of regular court responsibly.
This difficulty necessitates backfilling the Crown Attorney and the regular court schedule for days, weeks, months, or even years, as has happened in the past. Therefore, the service must use outside counsel, hired on a per-diem or term-employment basis to backfill in the response to major cases.
With regard to day-to-day operations and the need, historically, for regular per-diem assistance, the Halifax region has experienced success, and dramatically reduced the need for per-diem Crowns. This has been done with an innovative approach to court scheduling and has resulted in significant cost savings.
The service's policy of assigning at least Crown Attorneys to all major cases and the anticipated increase in the number of major cases, as well as an expected increase in Crown Attorney salaries, we will increase the service's staffing costs in fiscal 2006-07.
Last year, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service assigned a Crown Attorney dedicated exclusively to the prosecution of provincial regulatory offences. This initiative was designed to enhance the Public Prosecution Service expertise in provincial regulatory prosecutions. This Crown Attorney is concentrating initially on occupational health and safety offences and serves as an in-house resource for other Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys involved in occupational health and safety and other regulatory offence prosecutions.
The decision to assign a Crown Attorney exclusively to regulatory offence prosecutions was a joint resolve of the Public Prosecution Service and the Department of Environment and Labour. Each organization wanted to enhance the way these cases are handled both at the investigation and prosecution stages.
The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service this year successfully concluded the prosecution of a New Brunswick Provincial Court judge, a former hospital CEO and two other hospital executives on multiple counts of fraud and breach of trust. The New Brunswick Department of Justice asked Nova Scotia to handle the pre-charge advice in the prosecution because of the inherent conflict of interest. Mr. Chairman, I think this highlights the high level of acknowledgment given to our Public Prosecution Service in Nova Scotia.
The Government of Canada has passed new legislation in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. The legislation grants additional powers to the police, identifies new offences and establishes new court procedures. The service could be called upon to provide pre-charge advice to the police in relation to counterterrorism investigations; liaises with other provincial prosecution services, the Federal Prosecution Service and the international prosecutors on counterterrorism investigations and prosecutions could be asked to provide advice to the Minister of Justice on the matter; and participate in the conduct of lengthy prosecutions where complex challenges to the new legislative provisions can be anticipated. To address these additional demands, the service has assigned one senior Crown Attorney to all of these additional responsibilities. This Crown Attorney attends training sessions and interprovincial meetings to coordinate counterterrorism efforts.
Finally, the province's Justice of the Peace system operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and continues to demand Crown Attorneys be on duty after-hours and on weekends.
As you can see, there are many, many challenges facing the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service this year and in the coming years, but I'm confident, Mr. Chairman, the Public Prosecution Service will be able to meet these challenges, as they have. The continued contribution to the public safety made by the Public Prosecution Service can never be taken for granted or understated.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, I appreciate the opportunity to review some of the activities of my department and to present the highlights of this year's budget. I, along with the department staff, look forward to an active year as we work with our partners in ensuring Nova Scotians can be confident in the safety and security of their communities.
I'd like to close my remarks by thanking the staff of the department. Right across this province, Mr. Chairman, close to 1,000 staff from the department are hard at work ensuring the smooth administration of justice and improving the safety of our communities. Each individual has an important role to play in making sure we provide high-quality services. I have been truly impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm I have witnessed since becoming minister such a short time ago.
I look forward to the members' questions and comments opposite, and welcome the opportunity to share information once again on our programs and services. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just begin by welcoming the Minister of Justice to his estimates and to this committee. This is the first time he has been here as the Minister of Justice, and I want to congratulate him on his appointment to this position. All of us who have been in the House for any period of time know, Mr. Minister, your able ability in this House with respect to your job as Speaker and, certainly, for my part, always appreciated your co-operation. I'm sure that although we may not always agree on all the issues in respect to your particular files that you hold, I know that you will administer them in a forthright manner, and I look forward to working with you on these files.
I'll just make a brief comment about justice generally in the province. Whenever I get down to Yarmouth there's the old original courthouse there. As you may know, there's a big sign out in front that identifies the old courthouse. At that time, they used to name the courthouses, and that particular courthouse was known as "Vengeance House". That's a pretty dramatic description of a court. Of course, over the years, the notion of even-handed justice has changed a vast amount since the time that that house originally held the courthouse.
I think it's important that we understand that the justice system is not just about vengeance, it's not just about retribution, it is about ensuring that all the citizens in our society are treated fairly in the eyes of the law. Having practised in the courts of this province for many years, I know that people who come before the courts often don't feel like they've been heard. They don't feel, even if they've gotten an order from the court,
that they can get it enforced at least in the manner and to the degree with which they would like to have that happen.
In particular, I hear from people who have been involved in Family Court matters, and I'm sure that the minister does as well, particularly with respect to the Maintenance Enforcement Program. So I'm just going to spend a few minutes talking about the Maintenance Enforcement Program and asking a couple of questions on it.
I noticed, for example, that the estimate for this year's budget for the Maintenance Enforcement Program is actually less than the estimate for the previous year. It's more than the forecast amount, but it's lower than the previous estimate. I know the Maintenance Enforcement Program has maintenance enforcement officers. I guess I'd like to explore with the minister, if I could, just a little bit about the way that maintenance enforcement actually works. Can the minister indicate to me whether or not the Maintenance Enforcement Program has an investigation unit where they look at maintenance enforcement orders that aren't being paid and actually go out and investigate as to why it is that that maintenance enforcement agreement is not capable of being enforced?
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank the honourable Leader of the Opposition for his opening comments. I appreciate it very much. I want to assure the honourable Leader of the Opposition that my intent is to work not only with yourself and your caucus, and the Liberal caucus, but as well with your critics, to ensure that programs and policies, and particularly legislation that we put before this House that becomes law in this province, are all inclusive of all our ideas. We've heard in this House that maybe a particular initiative was someone's idea. Well, you know, that's fine, because that's what it's all about, sharing ideas and ensuring we come up with the right mix at the end of the day, and that's where my commitment is.
Just for clarification - the honourable Leader of the Opposition mentioned about this year's budget, but I think if you look at the fees that were collected, the fees are substantially higher this year compared to the year before. I think that, together with the fees that we collect, as well as the budget, it would equal the same amount as budgeted the year before. So we'll end up with the same dollars in the Maintenance Enforcement Program, it's just that we're collecting higher fees.
In regard to the issue, I believe the question was, is there some sort of process in place to investigate those who aren't paying? The other day in Question Period, the issue of maintenance enforcement was brought up in regard to this province's compliance versus collection. There's a difference. In regard to compliance, that relates specifically to the people who are paying versus the people who aren't. But in Nova Scotia - and I think the federal statistic branch, in fact, have indicated that the numbers in Nova Scotia may not reflect the true number that it should, the reason being, in Nova Scotia, everyone
who is involved in the Maintenance Enforcement Program is in. There's no such thing as a voluntary opting out or opting in, such as British Columbia offers.
As well, in Nova Scotia we have a direct pay policy. In other words, a person who is a payer can pay directly to the person they're paying the monies to. If, in fact, that's over by one day - for example the date is the 15th and they don't get it until the 16th, that is then considered non-compliance and it goes into those stats. If for any reason the monies don't reach them on a certain date, it's considered non-compliance, and those numbers are used. I think the important point to remember here is that of the monies owed in Nova Scotia, 78 per cent of the dollars are actually collected and passed on to the folks it's intended for, and that's very important for people to understand.
Is there room to grow and to do better? Always. I would never stand here and say that we're happy with the status quo and we'll leave it at that. We have created additional positions. I can tell the honourable Leader of the Opposition that this is something we want to review in the very near future to see what we can do to raise our ability to ensure that the people, the families, the children, who are entitled to these monies do get the money. We will work towards that; we will work towards making it better for them.
The issue of some sort of way to determine - or is there a group outside? No, there's not. Each caseworker who is assigned the files has the ability. There are several processes, as the Leader of the Opposition would know, in this province. There are garnishees that can be put in place, there's revocation of drivers' licences - there are all kinds of ways that, collectively, in this House, we have put some rules in place that will allow caseworkers to ensure those monies are collected. It's done internally, and I'm sure within the department itself they review these cases. To their credit, I would like to go on the record to say that I think they do an exceptional job in regard to carrying out their duties to ensure that monies that are owed to families in this province are collected.
MR. DEXTER: I think the minister said there's not an investigation unit as such, and I don't think that's a secret to anyone. One of the scenarios that we hear about time and time again is people who are not employed - and this is happening more and more as there are home-based businesses - and people who work for themselves, they're out and they're employed, and they may be self-employed, so there's no employer to garnishee, there's no way to, in many cases, even determine what their income is. What they simply say is you can't take what I don't have, yet their spouses who often know very well how it is that they are making their living, I mean, even the outward signs in many cases, people who are not - I shouldn't say in many cases, but in some cases there are people who have all the outside trappings of considerable income, but show none.
Many of the people who have these orders that they would like to have enforced but can't seem to get them enforced are frustrated with the fact the enforcement officer is using all the procedures, the legal procedures, that they have at their disposal to try to make the person pay, but to no avail. In fact, one of the things that is kind of a mitigating factor here on the effectiveness is the fact that if you don't have an investigation unit and you don't have somebody who is going out and looking after these cases, then the debtor knows at the end of the day, once the enforcement procedures have been exhausted, that they're home free.
So it seems to me that at least to some extent there ought to be some real on-the-ground investigation of some of these claims. I know as a fact, because they come to my office and perhaps they come to yours as well, that the Maintenance Enforcement Program receives these complaints all the time from spouses who say I know that my spouse has considerable income, I'm not getting it, and myself and my children are suffering as a result of that.
In fact, Mr. Minister, the province itself suffers, because when people do not live up to their responsibility to their children, it is the state that moves in to fill that gap. We should be taking every opportunity we can to ensure that people are living up to the responsibilities that they have to their children.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, through you to the Leader of the Opposition, you're absolutely right. As I said earlier in my opening comments, we continue to do everything we can to ensure that those dollars that belong to the spouses, to the children - you mentioned the issue of those who, for whatever reason, refuse to pay or can't pay. I'm told that there are situations where these individuals assume other family responsibilities, they assume other families with children. I'm sure there are a lot who work under the table. I'm sure there are all kinds of situations where these people are either unable to pay or, I'm sure in a lot of cases, are refusing to pay.
We have to continue to increase our efforts to try to recoup that. We've already had a discussion, myself and a couple of other departments, about the impact that has on this province. If the province doesn't have the ability to recoup that money through Community Services, actually the taxpayers of this province are paying it, and the people who should be paying are escaping their responsibility. I agree with you.
To the honourable Leader of the Opposition, I guess my answer is yes, we'll have to continue to try to work harder to ensure we put the resources in place because, again, I want to make sure that we all understand the staff who are in place today do the very best they can with the resources they're provided. So we have to provide additional resources, we have provided additional positions, as we talked about earlier, but I can tell you that we, between several departments, are reviewing this whole issue now. We
understand it. I understand and agree with what you're saying, and we'll continue to do everything we can to alleviate the problem.
MR. DEXTER: I'm going to make one last pitch on this. I'm sure the minister understands that what happens here is that you have the Family Courts of the province, they deal with a case that comes before them, there's a court order that is made, that order moves on to the Maintenance Enforcement division. The Maintenance Enforcement Program has a look at it, and they, from a technical perspective, have a range of legal mechanisms they can use in order to be able to make this go.
I want you to just think about a parallel for a second, which is, a person commits a crime, they're apprehended at the scene, they're brought to the Crown prosecutor, and the prosecutor has the file. The investigation of that matter does not stop there. There's still a lot of information that has to be gathered in order to ensure that the appropriate sentence is arrived at.
In maintenance enforcement, you get all the way through to the end and at the end you have these enforcement mechanisms, but there's never any investigation, there's no unit, there's no collection of people to investigate whether or not these unenforceable orders are truly unenforceable, or is it just that the department doesn't have the information because they don't have the investigation unit to see whether or not the person who is not paying truly can't pay or is just deciding not to pay. That's the thing that, I think, is missing here.
As you know, there are two elements to this. Your knowledge of the justice system will suit you well in this regard because you know that when you implement an order, the order is specific to the individual that it's trying to influence and whose behaviour you're trying to influence, but it also acts as a deterrent to many other people, and if you have no investigation unit and you have no way of tracking down, every one of those people who get away with it actually acts as an example to other people - so even a small investigation unit which is tracking down the specifics on maintenance enforcement orders that are not being paid, every one of those people who are successfully forced to comply with those maintenance enforcement orders actually acts as a positive example for all of the rest who are not paying.
So I'm going to make one last pitch to you, Mr. Minister, to undertake some review or to undertake some initiative that would provide an investigatory capacity for the Maintenance Enforcement Program.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, and again to the honourable Leader of the Opposition, I would like to thank him for his comments and his suggestions. I wouldn't want to mislead the House on the fact that I said, I was thinking there was no external investigative unit, no type of unit dedicated specifically to doing that, but my
understanding is that whether it's the director or their superiors, supervisors, and as well your front-line workers would certainly be able to investigate and bring that kind of information forward and, if need be, enforce that court order.
MR. DEXTER: Do they do it?
MR. SCOTT: Well, I'll certainly ask. Really, that's a good comment and I'll take it under advisement. I commit to do that.
I know in my case as an MLA, and I'm sure the honourable member would agree, that a lot of times I get phone calls from people who will tell me all kinds of information that they have, that they've garnered themselves, and I'll encourage them to pass that on to the enforcement worker so that they can do their job - a lot of times they don't have that information. Maybe it's new information, it may be the fact that someone is moving from one area to another, or they're hard to track.
Again, I appreciate what the honourable member is bringing before the House. I'll certainly ensure that that information is recorded and taken under advisement.
MR. DEXTER: Those were really the questions that I had. I want to thank you for your responses. I'm now going to turn the rest of the time for this hour over to my colleague, the member for Halifax Needham.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I want to start first by associating myself with the opening remarks of my colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, to the minister. But I don't have a great deal of time, so I'll just move right along.
It is very nice to see you, Mr. Minister, and we are more than happy to work with you and your very capable staff to improve programs and deliver programs from and through the Department of Justice to Nova Scotians.
I want to ask questions in a few areas. I want to ask about Nova Scotia Legal Aid and expenditures. I know that the minister said in his opening remarks, Mr. Chairman, that there is an increase in Nova Scotia Legal Aid's budget - and indeed I see this - and that hundreds more will get services as a result of the increased expenditures.
So, first of all, I'm wondering if the minister could tell me how many clients does Nova Scotia Legal Aid serve annually? Will there be an additional hiring of staff lawyers as a result of this increase in expenditure? Will there be a change in the income ceiling, that is the income level at which you no longer qualify for Legal Aid services? These, I
think, are two significant areas that limit the capacity for Nova Scotia Legal Aid to provide Legal Aid services to people in the province. I would think that the minister, in his constituency, as many members here, has people come to him because their income, even when it's quite low, is still higher than the income cut-off for when you can qualify for Legal Aid services.
So those are my questions basically, how many clients annually receive Legal Aid services? How many clients, due to the increase, will receive Legal Aid services? Will there be additional staff lawyer resources as a result of the Legal Aid increase in the budget? Will there be any change in the income ceiling, that is the level at which you can qualify for Legal Aid?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the honourable member for Halifax Needham. First of all, I appreciate your opening comments. We've been in this Legislature, I guess, for the same length of time, and I do look forward, as I said to your Leader, to working with you and other members opposite in regard to the many initiatives that are coming forth, because I think that it's collectively that we resolve these, not by opposing each other.
In direct response, I guess, to your questions. Number one, my understanding is the Legal Aid initiative in this province would assist approximately 28,000 people in the run of a year. The $700,000 that we're committing additional this year, in estimation, will allow them to assist approximately 500 to 700 more people. What that money will allow for is more certificates. In other words, it will allow the present complement of Legal Aid lawyers the ability to see that many more people because that many more certificates will be issued.
As I'm sure the honourable member would appreciate, when the amount of funding is allocated, it allows for a certain amount of service. So this will allow for additional certificates for 500 to 700 more clients. As well, we budgeted $125,000 this year. You asked about the entrance level for the income. That will not have an effect on that. What we have done, we have allocated an additional $125,000 to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission. They are going to do a study in regard to that very issue you bring forward and then report back with their thoughts on it. We'll proceed from there with any type of recommendation they may have, or how they see we may be able to proceed with changing that, but that additional $700,000 won't affect it, but we are allocating an additional $125,000 to address that very issue, at least to review it.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I want to thank the minister for the response and providing some detail. That's very helpful. I think that even though we would all recognize that 500 to 700 isn't huge, it's certainly moving in the right direction. I'm sure
it must reflect the extreme demand that the Legal Aid system is placed under, there is no question about that. I don't know how many Legal Aid staff lawyers there are in the province. I'm wondering if the minister could tell us how many Legal Aid staff lawyers there currently are?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, again to the honourable member opposite, thank you for the question. In Nova Scotia there are 75 staff Legal Aid lawyers. But just so the honourable member understands, the additional funds that we're providing this year, the $700,000, will allow for certificates for 500 to 700 additional clients. They would be able to use that in the private sector, a lawyer, so they would be able to go out and hire - that's over and above. I didn't want to leave the impression I meant that same work would be done by those 75 lawyers. This would be over and above those in the private sector.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I thank the minister. I did understand the first time that it was lawyers in the private sector. I worked at Dalhousie Legal Aid for a little while, not as a lawyer, but as a community legal worker, so I have some appreciation of how the system works.
That was quite a long time ago - it wasn't yesterday, it was back in the early 1980s. At that time the Nova Scotia Legal Aid system was recognized as one of the best systems in the country. I think at that time there were studies that showed the staff lawyer system provided a lot of value for dollar and there was some comparative - looking at what was done across the country. I welcome that the commission is being provided some money to examine the provision of Legal Aid in the province. I think that's a very important initiative and I look forward to its outcome.
I want to talk briefly about maintenance enforcement. My colleague raised a few questions about maintenance enforcement and was talking about both investigations and the level of funding for maintenance enforcement in the province. You will know the Public Accounts Committee had an opportunity to have people here in the last session to talk about maintenance enforcement, which is a very important issue for those families that are in the system.
All of the information is that the vast majority of orders are for children - to provide the income that is required to raise children, to clothe them, to feed them, have them in proper housing, allow them recreation and those kinds of things. When maintenance isn't paid, the people who are suffering are generally the children and their custodial parent which, in the vast majority of cases, is a mother.
I know the minister pointed out to my colleague that 78 per cent of the maintenance ordered is actually collected - and that's great - but I think the concern is that even in the collection of maintenance it's often late and it's often not the full amount
that has been ordered. This is a very serious problem for those families who are trying to pay their bills. They have a budget, a household income that they need to rely on in a timely fashion, and they need it to be coming in on a regular basis. They need it to be paid in full in accordance with what is ordered.
I want to ask the minister, what plans are there to improve on those aspects of maintenance enforcement - getting the payment of maintenance happening in full and on time, how do you track? Are you tracking so that you have a way to look at whether or not you're improving in that area, the program, improvements in that area?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, again, thank you to the member opposite. Just before I answer that last question, I should point out that with regard to the Legal Aid issue, Nova Scotia has the third highest per capita Legal Aid staff lawyers in the country. In fact, the staff lawyer situation we have here has been adopted by many other jurisdictions. Other provinces have seen that our situation here in this province (Interruption) Pardon me?
I think it's important to note that we are doing something right here in the province, as in many other cases, because it has been adopted by other jurisdictions.
Back to maintenance enforcement, the honourable member again brings forward a very good issue. Many times, as I'm sure she has experienced and I've experienced as well in my own constituency, non-compliance a lot of the time is for a lot of different reasons. I know in my area, and I'm not trying to justify it, I'm just saying in my own area, for example, it's been brought to my attention when people weren't paying it was with regard to a lot of people in my area being seasonal workers, for example. Unfortunately, they end up losing their jobs or become laid off when they never expect to be and do without EI benefits for a month, or a month and a half. There are those folks, as I said earlier, who move into a different situation, maybe they resume responsibilities of another family with children. I'm not trying to justify what they do, I'm just saying there are a lot of situations where people are not paying, not because they don't want to, but because they're unable to. That's one side of the equation. The other side are those who refuse to pay.
Again, I think we've made some strides in that regard, some initiatives have been undertaken. For example, the cancellation of people's drivers licences, or was mentioned to me, through court orders, we could actually see property seized, or assets.
I think with the present process in place now, the maintenance enforcement workers are aware of their ability and what they're able to do. Given the proper information and given the proper resources to do that, I believe they will do their job, and they are doing their job to the best of their ability.
So, to answer the honourable member's question, again I will say that 78 per cent, if you look at the national standards, is by no means perfect. Could we do better? Absolutely. I think we all could do better across this country. If we're not getting 100 per cent then, obviously, there's room to move. I think we have to continue to review what we're doing, our policies, continue to ensure that we have enough people in the system, enough resources.
As was mentioned earlier, the caseload is actually about 700 per person. That's a huge caseload. Those are active files. We've talked in my own department and we've also talked to a couple of other departments about that very issue and how we may address that. I think at the end of the day it's not only costing the families who are losing out, but those folks are then forced to go to Community Services, which is uncomfortable for them and, again, a long process. Taxpayers in this province end up paying there, as well. I really appreciate those services being there for them, but we have to continue to work together to try to find a way to recoup those dollars and put the money where it's intended to be.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I know the minister is very sincere in terms of his understanding of the complexity of this issue and how difficult it can be to collect on orders. There are a lot of factors that come into play, but I think the bottom line is we have to, I think, change people's attitudes around their responsibilities toward their children.
This is a life commitment, really, when you have children. You might not always have to be paying maintenance, but certainly in those early years and throughout their adolescence and young adulthood, it's very important they have the benefit of having a parent - a parent has the ability to contribute to their standard of living, their education, their basic needs, for sure that that be provided.
I want to move on to the Correctional Services aspect of the Department of Justice, and I want to say to the minister that I am a bit puzzled by the estimates. In total, what is forecast for this year is about $21,054,000 and for next year the estimate is actually slightly under $21 million. Now, simply applying the cost of living, or the consumer price index, looking at a 2.5 or 3 per cent increase in cost due to inflation for salaries, for operating of these facilities, the fuel costs, the electric bills, whatever - because a lot of the items in this category, I would think the big expenditures would be staff and they would be the physical plant of a facility - it would seem to me that there would have been required some adjustment to maintain those services that would see an increase of maybe $600,000, but what we are seeing, in fact, is a very small increase of about $85,000 - in addition to that we have at least one new program being provided, so the additional program, the Youth Attendance Centre, that wasn't here before, is in.
Basically what I am saying to the minister is it looks like some of these facilities are going to have to cut something, someplace, in terms of their programming or whatever. So could you please clarify for me why it is that this is the case, according to this estimate?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you again to the member opposite for a very good question. In regard to the maintenance enforcement issue, if I could, I just want to mention that the maintenance enforcement people have updated their tracking system, which will give them more balanced, up-to-date information which should help them in their quest to collect these monies we have been talking about.
As well, as I mentioned earlier - I think I did mention it in Question Period the other day - Maintenance Enforcement is conducting a review of their present files to ensure that any files that either should be closed or were closed, or that aren't there, that they are not dealing with those any longer, and they would be outdated files anyway, so those are two initiatives they have undertaken to try to enhance their ability to collect.
The honourable member raised the issue about the budget for Correctional Services. In the forecast for 2005-06, $21,054,000, actually $2 million of that would be to pay the mortgage at Waterville - I'm sorry, pay out the mortgage at Waterville. So if you look at the estimate of 2005-06 of $19.1 million, to the estimate of 2006-07, there is actually an increase of $1.8 million total and I want to make sure that I do tell the honourable member that there will be absolutely no cuts in programs at any of these facilities this year. Thank you.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, that is where I was going next, to look at the Waterville operating budget and why it was down, but that does explain it. I want to thank the minister.
As we all know here in this House, youth crime is a serious concern in our communities and I think that it's incumbent on us to plug away at this issue. It's not something that came overnight, it's not something we'll solve overnight, and maybe it's something we'll never completely solve, but it's certainly something that we have to work at. A piece of that is, in fact, having from time to time to remove the young offenders from our communities, where they either put others at risk or themselves at risk, for a period of time in detention.
Now, in this estimate we have a new line item, the Youth Attendance Centre. We have an estimate of $450,000 to operate this centre. I want to ask the minister, it doesn't seem like a very large amount of money, and certainly if you compare it to some of the other facilities, so I think everybody is quite curious about what this Youth Attendance
Centre will actually be, when will we have more information about this centre? Where will it be located, for example? How will it work? Will it require legislation to empower the province to mandate, by Statute, that young people attend such a centre? Will it have a residential component? These are all questions I think that we're looking to have answered.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite. The issue of the Youth Attendance Centre is something I know that our department, and I can tell the member opposite, myself, I'm really very excited about it.
I will tell you a little story. In my earlier days as a police officer, there was a chief who was in his 70s, just prior to retiring, and he stayed until he was in his 70s, anyway, there were many break and enters in the homes in our area. I had apprehended a young fellow for all those, and he got a substantial amount of time in Shelburne for that. I remember the chief said to me, after the case was closed he called me in and said he thought I was feeling pretty good about myself and I had done a pretty good job, and I thought I had, and he said, well that's great, but he said don't think for one minute by sending that young fellow to jail that you've actually solved that problem for him. I had some dealings with the young gentleman after that, and he was absolutely right.
I know the member for Cape Breton Nova is involved with youth on a regular basis, and in dealing with youth, you're right, this is a serious, serious issue this province is attempting to deal with. Youth crime in this province is something that we should all be very concerned about because these are our leaders of tomorrow, and if we don't address this issue now while they're young, then we're just going to deal with them in adult facilities later. It means, yes, unfortunately in some cases, young people and old people, as well, have to go to jail. I think with a proper program in place, the proper interventions at the right time, and that's at the youngest possible age we can, that we can change the paths of a lot of these young people, and I truly believe we can do that.
The Youth Attendance Centre, you're absolutely right about the amount that's budgeted for, but just please keep in mind that by the time this budget passes, and there's a lot of consultation at this time with other departments, Education, Community Services, Health, Health Promotion and Protection, that we'll be looking for our partners to buy into this as well, but more than that, by the time, again, throughout the summer and this Fall, we get our plan in place, we'll probably have less than half a year that the Youth Attendance Centre, hopefully, will be up and running. So the budget money that we're allocating at this time will be for half a year, at most, probably less than that. So, you can be sure you'll see this again in next year's budget at a higher number.
The other thing you mentioned was the ability to commit youth to attend this centre. We don't believe it will require legislation. The courts have the ability, today, to ensure that a young person attends that centre, the same as they would if they attended
Waterville, or probation restrictions and conditions. No, they will not be overnight stays, this will be a day/evening use. We're hoping to see something that will be used throughout the day and evening, that young people will be able to attend the centre to take part in all types of programs you can imagine that young people need to have made available to them to ensure that they can be the best citizens they can be.
MS. MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I'm being told that I'm not allowed to ask any more questions, so I will turn my time over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: Thank you. I do thank the minister for the words a little earlier in working with young offenders in an open custody and closed custody facility. My first question for the minister would be in the Maintenance Enforcement Program area. I would like to know if a person of either gender is involved in the Maintenance Enforcement Program and they're not receiving any kind of income except from a trust or society and receiving that income, can the department of the Maintenance Enforcement Program now access that funding to pay for the court-ordered monies to their family? I remember reading this back awhile ago that something was going to change, that somebody would be able to access the Maintenance Enforcement Program if somebody's receiving money from a trust fund. I just want to know if the minister knows, as of April 1st this year, if that law came into effect.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you to the honourable member for Cape Breton Nova, I'm not sure if I understand the issue about April 1st, but I guess, generally answering the question, it would be yes, there's an ability to collapse pension funds, there's an ability to access funds. I believe that any person has access to or is entitled to, through a court order, that Maintenance Enforcement could actually access those funds. We will take it under advisement if there's a trust or something that we're not aware of but, generally speaking we believe the Maintenance Enforcement has the ability to collapse even pension funds, which is quite a significant step - I'm sure the member would agree.
MR. GOSSE: What I was trying to say there and explain was that - an example - there was a company and the Family Court had ordered a person that's a part of that company but, that person doesn't actually get an income but receives monies in the trust - just a case that I'm working on that I won't mention any names - they've not been able to access the money from this person because he's receiving, for example $3,000 a month from the family business in a trust fund, and the department has not been able to access that fund. I'm just trying to find out because the law was supposed to change as of April 1, 2006 and I'm just wondering has it changed and can we access those funds?
MR. SCOTT: Thank you to the member opposite for the question. If the honourable member would provide myself and staff with the facts, we'll certainly
endeavour to determine whether in fact that person is entitled to those funds and if not, why not. If there's something we're not aware of that we should be addressing and look into, we'll commit to do that but I'd ask the honourable member if he can provide the facts to the case at a later time, we'll certainly endeavour to address that on his behalf.
MR. GOSSE: I thank the minister. The Sydney office is well aware of this case and they've been working on it for a number of years now and advised me that they would finally be able to access the funding on this case. Actually, I have a very good working relationship with the administrators in the MEP program in the Sydney office. I find them to be very gracious, every time I've called they've called me back at a very expedient time and I got answers to certain things that I've been working on so I'm very happy that I have such a good working relationship with the office in the Sydney department and the staff there.
Now I'll switch to something we've talked about earlier about young offenders and crime prevention, Mr. Minister. Crime is concentrated in a small number of locations and most crimes are committed by a small percentage of the population. Crime reduction and crime prevention must be focused in those certain areas where the crime is at. We have pockets of crime, then it's up in certain areas.
I've done a lot of work in the past for the Community Mobilization Program with the federal Department of Justice on different programs. I've always noticed, when we get the community mobilization funding from the federal Department of Justice, that funding is only amounted for a certain length of time. The problem seems to be with young people having some sort of stability and just always being there for them.
So, if you run a grant for eight or nine months of the year, when the grant is over, the young people you're trying to help in that length of time, there never seems to be enough money for core funding for organizations like the Whitney Pier Youth Club, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and other organizations - Community Cares in Sydney Mines and the Speaker is the member there.
I'm just wondering if the Department of Justice in the provincial office has any money set aside in this budget to partner with the Community Mobilization Program for some crime prevention programs in these targeted areas where the unemployment rate is high, where there's a lack of housing? The underlying causes have to be addressed in this - domestic violence, drug abuse, poverty, adequate housing - those types of things are the underlying problems with young offenders.
I'm just wondering if the minister could let me know if there's any kind of projects his department has in the upcoming years to partner with the Community Mobilization Program out of Ottawa and do some crime prevention in these areas, these pockets of areas where this money is needed to provide these constructive programs and
keep our youth busy. Busy hands are happy hands. I wonder if the minister could answer some of those questions? The question about partnership with the feds on some community mobilization projects.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you again to the honourable member. I think the honourable member brings forward a very good issue. First of all, I want to thank the honourable member for his comments about staff. I don't think we can state hard enough how important it is that we have good staff and we do have great staff throughout this province. As I said earlier, I've come in contact with some of those folks and look forward to tomorrow. I thank you for commending the staff for the great job they do and supporting them in their endeavours.
As I said earlier as well, I mentioned the honourable member, he's one member in this House who, on a regular basis, continues to come to me and talks to me about youth in his area and I know he has done great work over the years to help the youth. I know he's well recognized in his community for it. In fact, I heard that when I did my travels to Cape Breton.
The issue he brought forward about short funding from the federal government; I don't dispute with the honourable member, a lot of federal programs are for a specific amount of time and they only allow for a program to get up and running and then it seems the funding ends. In our budget, we don't specifically have funds to address the issue the honourable member is bringing forward, but if the honourable member wanted to encourage an organization to bring the issue to the department, bring it to our attention and the great type of work they're doing, we would certainly give it consideration. As well, we would try to find some other partner that may assist with a project such as this.
I want to say again, and I will say it every chance I have, it's the youth that we should be concentrating on. Whether it's in education, social programs or programs that will divert them away from the court setting into a setting where they acquire the skills they need and as well to provide them with services that will help them to be good corporate citizens.
I really appreciate the work the honourable member does on behalf of those young people. He's doing a great job and has done a great job for a number of years. If the Department of Justice can in any way at all assist, we would certainly welcome the opportunity. Bring the information to us and we will talk to other departments as well.
I think it has been said in this House many times, the Department of Justice can't be all things to all people. There's probably a lot of things we wish we could do, and would like to do, but unfortunately we don't have the necessary funds to do it. It doesn't
mean that we can't try, doesn't mean we can't look to some of the other departments and see if there's some way to help an issue such as the honourable member has brought forward today. Again, bring that information forward and we'll give it some consideration.
MR. GOSSE: The minister does bring forward a good point about the Department of Justice not being all things to all things, but working in the field with youth for over 15 years and realizing that there are different things that young people - I think there has to be a collaborative effort between four different offices in this Legislature - the Department of Health, the Department of Community Services, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. Those are things that I've heard over the years working with young people and young offenders that, you know, sometimes they fall through the cracks between one department and the other department.
Sometimes it's a matter of communication, sometimes it's a matter of dollars, but I think the money that we spend on programming for young people today in our society will benefit us. You imagine spending a few thousand dollars to keep a young offender busy in the youth centre, or Boys and Girls Club, or any kind of programming, after school activity programming, any of those programs. The Department of Community Services has a good program where it takes young people who are in foster care and finds employment for them in the summertime.
I've accessed that program for a number of years and taken young people out of foster care, those types of things, but I think that maybe the ministers of all four of those departments could sit down and maybe have a joint effort, with all four departments, to realize that. You know, we have a person who's involved in a lot of underlying things, like I said, adequate housing, poverty, drugs, family violence, those types of things, and they all fall under different departments. So maybe with the Minister of Justice now and the new government, we could sit down - the four departments - and work out a strategy where all the four departments can get together and provide these much needed services to these young people.
The old saying back, I guess back home, is busy hands are happy hands. If you're marching, you're not fighting, I mean those types of things. So I think that, you know, providing those constructive and unconstructive programming on a daily basis, after school programs, activity programs for young kids after school, even some of the local officers in the police departments across the province to visit some of these school programs. I know we have police liaison officers in our community, in the junior high in Sherwood Park, and we've always had a police on the board of directors of the Whitney Pier Youth Club. So it's important that we involve all four different agencies to try to provide these things that we're missing.
Like I said earlier, it's a very small percentage of young people today in society who behave in these ways and those are the kind of things that if we spend a little money just targeting those young people, if we can turn them around at an early age, it will benefit us all as Nova Scotians and those are the things that are important, you know. It's a lot cheaper to provide programs for young people for baseball, hockey, weight lifting, tae kwon do and other programs, and knock down the barriers of fees and poverty so we can do those things. I'm hoping in the upcoming year, and I know the minister is going to travel to Cape Breton and I'm looking forward to bringing him down to the Whitney Pier Youth Club and other facilities, the United Mission Youth Centre, Community Cares Youth Outreach in North Sydney, and all these other youth centres, the Boys and Girls Club, the Police Boys and Girls Club in Glace Bay and Dominion, those people who actually are on the front lines working with young offenders, and maybe getting the other departments.
I know the Department of Justice, it's like a cog in the wheel, has a certain part that they can play, but with the minister and the new Minister of Community Services, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education, that we can all sit down and map out a strategy within those four departments so we can make Nova Scotia a better society, a better place for our young people, and a safer community for people to grow up in. With that, I'll ask the minister to talk about maybe some kind of strategy in the future between those four departments and working together to make Nova Scotia a safer and better place for our children.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, again I would like to thank the honourable member. As I know, he has a real passion for this issue. Just a few comments I would like to make, yes, the honourable member and I have discussed and he made a request that I would travel to his area and I did make that commitment that I will when the House closes. Either later this summer or early Fall, I certainly look forward to meeting with the member in his own riding and meeting some of those folks.
Kind of what the honourable member is suggesting, I think is probably underway already. The Deputy Minister of Justice along with the deputies of those other three departments that you talked about have already met and have, in fact, prepared a report on youth and programming. In fact, that has been presented for the Nunn report and we'll make sure a copy of that is presented to the honourable member opposite for his review and his comments.
The last thing is, as the honourable member would know, in May I announced the Task Force on Safer Streets in Communities in Nova Scotia. I see this as an opportunity for those people in the area, the Cape Breton area, for example, will be able to come forward to help review the present legislation, the present programming, the present initiatives that we have in this province that I believe are working very well, and also look at other opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, all the good ideas are not in one
person or one body and they're not in one province either. I'm sure we can look at other jurisdictions, as we have been doing. We've been looking at other jurisdictions in regard to legislation and programs they have, initiatives, not just in youth crime but on all issues around justice.
I really look forward to the opportunity for folks from around Nova Scotia to come together to review those things I just talked about, and things that we can learn from and hopefully move forward on. Again, to the honourable member, thank you for bringing forward such an important issue on behalf of your constituents.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Annapolis.
MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, I want to echo many of the comments made today. I want to congratulate the minister, not only on being re-elected but being re-appointed as Minister of Justice. I haven't been in this House anywhere near the length of time he has, but in my short time being here, I want to express my appreciation for the way that, not only as Minister of Justice but as Speaker of the House, he has treated me, and I think has transcended to all members of this House. He has been an example of how I think legislators should be conducting themselves. Your reputation before that as a police officer, I've heard a little bit about that, and I'll stop with that. (Laughter)
I also will comment a little bit about the staff, and I do want to agree with you when you talk about the staff throughout all of government. I think I would be remiss if I didn't say the staff in your department, especially in the financial side of your department, really are above and beyond most staff members in the Province of Nova Scotia. (Laughter) There might be a will I could get put in at some point along the way, I don't know.
I had spoken to you, Mr. Minister, around issues with my riding, the Town of Annapolis Royal, and I know you're very familiar with that, the issue around policing. The Mayor of Annapolis has brought to your attention the issue of policing. I want to begin with saying the Town of Annapolis Royal, the 500 residents of the Town of Annapolis Royal, are very pleased with the police department they have. I believe it's two full-time, a chief and a full-time officer and a part-time officer. But under some staff changes that are being put forward by the department, their complement needs to go up, I believe originally it was seven and now it has been bumped down to five. I'm wondering if you could just give us an update on where that may be, and what's happening with that?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I would like to welcome the honourable member to the debate. The honourable member mentioned my previous career. In fact, I had some interaction with the honourable member's brother when he was a member of the
Middleton force. Anyway, that's enough, okay, and I won't introduce your brother, who is in the gallery, then. (Laughter)
I do appreciate the honourable member's comments, particularly towards staff because I think that's very important. The issue around policing in this province, I've had some experience as the honourable member knows. I think the standards for policing in this province have certainly risen substantially over the last number of years, in regard to training, equipment and to the standard and level of policing in response to crime, that Nova Scotians expect. I think that the police officers in this province, and the communities that provide for that service, do an exceptional job.
I know about the issue the honourable member is bringing forward. As he knows, I met with the mayor and I believe it was the chairperson of the Police Commission. My understanding was that there was a request for one additional person for Annapolis. Now maybe I'm wrong on that, but I thought the suggestion made to Annapolis was that they consider one additional person.
There's also, I think, a proposal to partner with the RCMP or Kentville to provide a certain level of service, that obviously a community that size and a force that size are not able to provide because of sheer numbers. I can tell the honourable member that we have met, again, with folks, and what we had asked at that meeting was for staff in the Department of Justice to go back again and review the request they had made to Annapolis, to review it to ensure that they had looked at all the facts to ensure that the policing and response expected by the folks of Annapolis Royal was being met, and to come back and we would have a further discussion. I commit to the honourable member that we will have that further discussion on this issue once the House closes.
MR. MCNEIL: I want to thank the minister for that, both for not indulging the House in his earlier escapades as a police officer with one of my siblings, but also as to the answer that he gave. I also want to encourage the minister, and I know he will do that as he's doing his tour around this province, to come to Annapolis Royal and sit down with the council and the citizens of Annapolis Royal to get a first-hand appreciation of how much they are satisfied with the force they have at this point, and the co-operation, quite frankly, that's taking place already between their force and the federal force that services much of the county around the town. I will look forward to that opportunity to see you in Annapolis Royal.
One of the other aspects, and I'm not sure whether this falls under your jurisdiction, is the courthouse in Annapolis Royal, one of the heritage buildings in our town. It is being used sparingly now. I'm wondering if you could lay out to me what the future plans are for the courthouse in Annapolis Royal, whether it's going to continue to operate as it is, or whether there's a possibility it may be downsized.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, in regard to the issue of the courthouse, I'm not aware of any plans for any kind of downsizing. As far as I'm concerned, I believe the intent is that it will continue in its present capacity, and to provide the services it has for so long. Unless the honourable member has some information that's different, I think I can honestly say that there's no plan for any difference in the services that it has today.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, I'm just putting it on record to make sure that that facility stays at the level that it is right now. I just wanted to make sure that we had that discussion. My constituency, quite honestly, is known for its firsts; one of those firsts was the Senior Safety Program that was developed in 1996 with the RCMP detachment in Bridgetown. Sharon Elliott was the coordinator, and Staff Sergeant Baxter Upshaw - I guess it was Sergeant Upshaw in those days - had developed this Senior Safety Program. I think there are six or seven other jurisdictions that are now providing it. I may even have heard that Cumberland County may be doing one, as recently as this year, I believe.
I'm wondering, what is your relationship with those programs? I'm wondering about your department's relationship with those programs. Is there a funding component to those from your department? I can tell you when you look at the County of Annapolis, and I'm sure it's spreading across to other jurisdictions, the services that are being provided to our seniors by this program, quite frankly, you cannot measure. They have provided them with the security to be able to stay in their own home. They've helped them find their way through, whether it be through the health care system, whether it be through the justice system, whether it be to make sure that they are able to stay in the environment they are most comfortable in. I'm wondering if your department has any relationship with those Senior Safety Programs.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, again I thank the honourable member for a very good question. The issue of senior safety, and all the issues around seniors in this province, is something that I know, from a justice point of view in my previous life as a police officer, again, I take very seriously. I was always aware of the fact that seniors are very vulnerable in their homes, particularly because they don't have a lot of resources around them, and some of them don't have families. A lot of them are trying to maintain their homes on very little money. They are vulnerable to all types of situations that would not be very nice, whether it's fraud, whether it's someone coming into their home, whether it's trying to access their funds, whether it's health issues.
The honourable member is right. There was a project that was initiated in Cumberland County. Certainly we're aware of many other programs throughout the province that are very credible, as is the one the honourable member brought forward today. The idea with this one was that it's in an area where there isn't any programming
available at this time. It was to attempt to bring forward a program to an area where there is a void now, but as well to try to learn from that, and when we learn from that one, we'll also learn from the ones in the honourable member's area and the other ones throughout the province.
We're hoping that we can put together a package because, as I'm sure the honourable member can appreciate, there are many other areas in Nova Scotia where seniors do not have access to a formalized type of senior safety program that encompasses not just issues around some of the things I've talked about, but many, many other issues. I've been told - I had asked for an update, actually, on this one that is up in Cumberland County, and I had an update from the police chief and the police commission here not too long ago - the response is phenomenal.
People, particularly in rural areas don't have direct access, a lot of the times, to a police officer or a police department unless they call someone, and are very appreciative of the fact that someone is collectively, in a formal way, looking at all these issues around senior safety and ensuring that seniors have advice and have knowledge of programs that may be available to them in various departments, and various services that are available in Nova Scotia.
I'm really looking forward to the final report from this department. I'm also looking forward for the opportunity for other groups, as the ones you've mentioned, to compare notes and to look at possibly coming up with a provincial strategy, so that we can have something, whether it's down in Yarmouth, whether it's in Cape Breton, whether it's up my way or in the member's own area, that a community and a police department or agency would have an opportunity to access this information, something that would help them address the needs of the seniors.
The second part of the honourable member's question, in regard to funding. I believe at this time that we do have a request, from an organization down your way, asking about funding for their specific initiative. I can tell the honourable member it's something that we will look at. Again, the one that we're involved with now is a bit of a pilot, and all those other ones in the province are very credible and this is not in any way to take away from those programs. We just want to ensure that we have all the information that we need to be able to put together a package to provide it to areas that don't have it presently.
I would encourage the honourable member to follow up on that with our department, and again we have a request from an organization down your way that we will give consideration to.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, I want to encourage the minister to also talk to the new Minister of Seniors, and her department, to find a way you can collaborate to
provide this not only to my constituents but all across Nova Scotia. The benefits are far beyond anything I can describe in this House for those seniors - and you've laid out many of them - particularly for seniors living in rural areas. Believe it or not, in parts of my constituency, people who live in the towns don't consider themselves rural areas, but when you live outside of that area oftentimes you don't see a police officer for quite some time, and know that you have that contact that you rely on to go and see.
I would also say this to you, and I would encourage you to say this to the Minister of Seniors - which I had mentioned to her during her estimates - a little bit of seed money from your departments leverage a tremendous amount of community funding, from the health foundations, from community organizations, from businesses, to really put together a first-class program. I cannot stress to you enough that I think not only is the one in my constituency a model for this province, it's a model for the country. I would encourage you to work in collaboration with the new Minister of Seniors to make sure that this becomes a province-wide program.
I'll go on to another issue, one that has been talked about an awful lot here today, and that's maintenance enforcement. Obviously all of us as MLAs get the same variety of complaints, maybe they vary in terms of quantity in our constituencies, but I'm wondering if you could tell me, in western Nova Scotia I believe there was an office that was in Yarmouth that had closed and the personnel had moved into Kentville - I think it may be all centralized out of Kentville - could you tell me if that's the case, and the rationale behind that, and perhaps how many maintenance enforcement officers we have in Nova Scotia now?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member opposite for a good question on a very important issue that faces Nova Scotians, and all of us, on a daily basis. First of all I would like to say, if I could just for a moment go back to the seniors' program, absolutely, we will be having dialogue with the minister of the new department, a new initiative with the seniors' responsibilities that she presently will have. That's exactly what we're hoping to do, to encourage a province-wide implementation of such a program, again adopting, I'm sure, a lot of things that we have that were missed, maybe some things that your own folks have missed. We'll be looking very closely at how we can adopt this province-wide program.
I should say, as well, that Valerie White from the Senior Citizens' Secretariat has been very, very supportive of this project. Valerie White has contact with seniors across Nova Scotia on every program that's available. I am sure the honourable member is aware of Valerie White. She's well known to most members in this House. She's a very credible person who does a great job with the Senior Citizens' Secretariat, in fact had encouraged Justice to become part of that group as well, to which we've agreed. The Senior Citizens' Secretariat is very supportive of it and looking forward to the results of
this program. So I want the member to be rest assured that we'll include his project, as well, in the final analysis.
The issue around maintenance enforcement, we presently have 48 individuals involved in maintenance enforcement overall, 25 of whom would actually be maintenance enforcement workers in the program in the province. The issue of Yarmouth, my understanding is that the individual who worked in the Yarmouth office was alone, and there were some issues around security, and the issues around being complemented by other people in offices doing the same type of work and the ability to work together. As well, apparently most people are not doing their face-to-face work anymore, they're doing a lot of on-line or telephone-type response.
I will tell the member opposite, today, that over the last number of weeks, I've had several discussions with the honourable member for Yarmouth, the Minister of Economic Development, on this issue. As you know, that's his home. In fact, when I was down to visit the area it was something he wanted to talk to me about when we were down there, and he showed me the area. So we've had a lot of discussion about it, and he's had input, as well. I will tell the honourable member opposite today - and the member for Yarmouth, I know he agrees with me on this - that there will be face-to-face service for maintenance enforcement in Yarmouth.
It's being worked on now so we can ensure that we do it in a safe manner, a manner so that the person who is providing that service is in a healthy and safe environment as that service is provided. I will tell the member that the face-to-face service that the member is asking about will be provided to the residents of Yarmouth and area.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, are there 25 maintenance enforcement officers for the province? (Interruption) I think that goes back a little bit to what the Leader of Opposition was talking about. Little bits and pieces of this, I think, are showing some of the downfalls of the program. You can only imagine the caseload of the 25 maintenance enforcement officers across Nova Scotia. They're doing all they can to keep up with the requests, not only the documents that are being sent by courts, but the requests coming from the people who are looking for answers.
I hear an awful lot in my constituency about people who said I've called the number, because, quite frankly, they have a difficult time following the electronic sequences they have to go through to get to the right person. That's one of the challenges that you're faced with. From your own staff's personnel, 25 people for across Nova Scotia, the caseload that they would be faced with would not be able to provide the level of service I think we all want. We all want the children in this province to be looked after, and if the court is ordering parents to be looking after them, they need to do so. That is an issue that I think, as a government, as a Legislature, we need to look at and
find out if that's a way in which we can bolster the ranks, quite frankly, to provide and ensure that court orders are being adhered to and that families are being looked after in the way that they should be.
One of the other things, and I just want to echo - and I'll ask for your comments on all of this afterwards - and add on to what the Leader of the Opposition said, and it was around it's one thing in Nova Scotia if you can't pay because you literally do not have the money, it's quite another if you're not paying. I'm not sure we have a good handle on the fact that people are not paying because they just literally do not have the money, or because they just don't want to pay. They have a problem with their ex-spouse, so they're punishing their children. I think there's a huge difference.
I think if we as a province took this issue and said we will clearly find out if there's a legitimate financial reason why somebody is not paying, then we can find a way to support that but, if it's not, if it's an issue between mom and dad and the children are suffering, then we as a province need to do everything we can with the court system to send a very, very clear message that that will not be tolerated in this province, and do everything we can to enforce that legislation.
I would like to have your response on those issues, and whether or not your department is moving in that direction - clearly defined, am I not paying because I can't, or am I not paying because I just don't want to?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I stated that the number of enforcement officers is actually 25, but I would ask the honourable member to just keep in mind as well that there are lawyers within the department who actively work, and in particular there's one dedicated to these enforcement orders, who works with maintenance enforcement to ensure that every available means under the law is followed to ensure that these monies are collected. I mentioned earlier as well that we've had the discussion between departments. The Department of Community Services, for example, has to step in on many of these cases to pick up the slack, so public dollars are being used when, really, monies that are supposed to flow to these families should be monies from other family members.
However, I just want to make sure the member keeps in mind that 78 per cent - and that's a significant number to keep in mind - of the monies owed are collected. Again, the number that was used earlier, I don't think it's fair to use that - the number to keep in mind always is that 78 per cent of the monies owed this province through these orders, maintenance enforcement, is collected by the maintenance enforcement officers in Nova Scotia.
Again, it's nowhere near perfect, and there's room to move, absolutely. You asked about how we intend to deal with it, and one of the initiatives that I've had some
discussion on already with the other folks is that we look at what kind of dollars we are allocating presently as a result of the 22 per cent not being collected, and how we support those people in maintenance enforcement, the people who are doing such a great job today to the best of their ability in dealing with 700 cases each. How do we enhance those resources; how do we provide additional people? Because that's what it's going to take - to work with them, to work side-by-side with them to collect every cent possible to ensure that the families that are entitled to that money get it and, as well, it will obviously benefit Community Services.
I think it's a two-pronged positive result here that could happen, but it's going to require resources from us, which we're presently talking about. I can tell the honourable member that I'll certainly take his comments on a positive note and we will be pursuing this further.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister. It leads to a tremendous amount of frustration from my side of the desk - I can't even begin to imagine the frustration that it brings to the other side of the desk when they're looking and asking for our support and our help. Often you hear the stories, well, he's gone to Ontario. How do you track him; how do you find him? It's unbelievable, and part of that is because the 25 people who are carrying those caseloads just don't have the time. They have to deal with the ones that are in front of them.
Not to belabour this point too long - I would agree on this issue, again, not paying because you don't want to, because mom and dad are having their own disputes and dad decides, or mom decides, they're not going to pay what the court orders, a few examples of that need to be dealt with - we need to send a clear message throughout Nova Scotia that we're not prepared to tolerate that. Whatever your personal reasons are for why you separated is up to you, and it's your business, but you have a responsibility to ensure that your children are looked after. I think a couple of cases of sending a clear message that we expect you to live up to your obligation is needed.
I want to move on to another issue and it's around the Commissioner of Oaths. I brought to your department's attention the issue around Commissioner of Oaths, in particular my constituency. In becoming a member of this House, I became a Commissioner of Oaths, and I have requested a number of people in my riding who are Commissioners of Oaths, and I've received it. Some are active. Some it's questionable. I think there is a $130 fee that's associated for somebody who can become a Commissioner of Oaths. I want to go on record as saying that in many rural areas it's extremely difficult to find a Commissioner of Oaths; the MLA is visible everywhere, but outside of the MLA.
Often, as you know, police departments are not open. They're not there all the time. I'm going to suggest - I'm going to be a lawyer - I would submit to you that perhaps one of the things we could do in rural Nova Scotia to provide a better service is to go to the one business that is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and those are funeral directors, who are dealing with people, they are there all the time. People are dropping by looking for documents to be signed, but they're also dealing with citizens in our community at the most vulnerable time, when they've lost a loved one and needing documents verified.
So I would suggest - and I'll ask the minister and his thoughts on this - perhaps in rural areas across this province we should be asking funeral directors to provide a service to our citizens that is required, and not having the Commissioner of Oaths application fee submitted, but have that fee waived and ask them to provide that service on behalf of all the citizens of Nova Scotia to ensure that their interests are protected to the very best that we can do.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite for the question. I was going to tell the him that in Cumberland South, residents have complete access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to a Commissioner of Oaths. I'm just wondering, in Annapolis, maybe they wouldn't have the same access. Who is the MLA there? (Interruption) There you go. We will agree to that.
Anyway, that's a very serious issue that you talk about. I just want to mention to the honourable member that I think it would be fair to say that if there was any area in the province, whether it's rural or not, that there is an issue or concern that people don't have access to a service in a timely fashion, then we would want to look at that. I believe $130 a year is the fee, presently, for Commissioner of Oaths, and I don't know how we could provide that to one group and not provide it to everyone across the province. I think we'd probably set a precedent if we tried to do that.
As the honourable member knows, that information is available on the Internet, the list of Commissioners of Oaths, across this province. So I don't think there is anything that prohibits people from getting access to those people, where they are and where they are located. Again, to just say carte blanche we would eliminate the fee for one group, I don't know how we could fairly do that unless we eliminated it altogether, and that would be a real budgetary concern for me, and that would mean the money would have to come from somewhere else.
Back to the honourable member, I think when you talk about access to commissioners in rural areas, if there is an area that's under-serviced or there's not the availability of the number of commissioners, then we'd be prepared to take a look at it.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, one of the budget commitments was to ensure that rural Nova Scotia became wired, and became alive. Unfortunately, in much of my constituency, access to the Internet is not available for many of them and, quite frankly, the seniors' population is not interested. Some of them do not want to, shall we say, get connected. So that is an issue. The reason I bring up the issue around the funeral directors, funeral homes, is because most towns in rural Nova Scotia have one, and somebody's there 24/7. As much as we all would like to think we're all available, we're not available when somebody desperately needs us, sometimes. A phone call is one thing, being on your doorstep is quite another, and I think that allows them to have that.
To end this off, I would suggest, and just looking at the one in my own constituency, I would encourage the department to take a serious look at the Commissioners of Oaths that they say are now active. You might want to find out and see how accurate that list is in your department that we're now saying is up and going. It's an issue.
I want to go back to something you had spoken about early on and that was the attendance centre. You spoke of the attendance centre - and I know you were asked about it earlier - I didn't hear where it was going to be located and what programs may be available.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you again to the member opposite. Just, if I could, on the Commissioner of Oaths issue, I will undertake to have at least a review of that list because when the honourable member actually wrote to me, when I reviewed that list I did see where there were some on there that I questioned. As you know, some folks are Commissioners of Oaths as long as their employer is in a particular position, and when that person leaves the employ they are no longer supposedly a Commissioner of Oaths. We will undertake to review that list of Commissioners of Oaths.
The attendance centre - there has been a lot of discussion, but I can tell the honourable member that the attendance centre will be on the peninsula in Halifax because of obvious reasons - the numbers. We believe the number of youth that we want to access that service, at least initially that's where the service will be we hope to offer. As yet, the specific location hasn't been determined. I know there's some discussion about a couple of possible locations.
We're actively seeking a location, and as to the type of services that will be offered, I see them as services that are related to teaching, academic services, issues under health, issues under anger management, helping young people to develop skills with regard to preparing resumés, it might be addiction services - we expect to offer a whole array of services that we believe will help people that age get themselves on the right track in life.
I think Waterville - and I mentioned earlier the results of Waterville, and the programs that had been offered there were proven to be very beneficial and very successful; in fact, they've been recognized elsewhere. We hope to mirror some of those programs at the attendance centre. We're looking for great results from that and look forward to it but, as of this point, a specific location hasn't been determined. There are currently, not negotiations, some conversations going on as to where that actually will be, but it will be on the peninsula here in Halifax.
MR. MCNEIL: You made reference to the Nova Scotia Youth Centre in Waterville and the programs that were offered there. That was going to be my next question. I was wondering, has there been an assessment of programs that have been offered and what is the reoffending rate, shall we say, what is the success rate to ensure that the youth is not re-entered into the Nova Scotia Youth Centre program?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite again for the question. As a result of shorter sentences being experienced at Waterville, a review and a reassessment of the programming that has been made available there for youth who attend that facility has been completed. There has been a review, and we have to rethink the position of the program because of the result of the fact that the young people aren't staying there as long as they were at one time. So the answer is yes, there has been a review of the programming and it will be to fit the motto of people with shorter stays.
As far as those reoffending, we don't have those numbers, but apparently the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics is attempting to compile those types of numbers for the country. We don't have those available right at this point.
MR. MCNEIL: Thank you very much. I would ask the minister, and I'm sure they're probably available but if he does, at some point, receive those numbers, it would be nice to see them and do a comparison on what happens with young people in the Valley and, really, across Nova Scotia.
There was reference in the campaign election - I think all of us offered hiring additional new police officers for Nova Scotia. I believe it was 250. I'm just wondering when we will begin to see the hiring of those police officers, and do you have any idea how they would be broken up across the province?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite for the question. Absolutely, when we get those numbers, when we're provided those numbers, we'll certainly ensure the member opposite has them for his specific area.
Yes, there was a commitment by our Premier that we will be providing an additional 250 police officer positions in Nova Scotia. I want to remind the honourable member, first of all, that's not included in this budget, that's in our platform to be
implemented over a four- year plan, which will start next year. I'm sure the honourable member can appreciate that comes with quite a considerable cost.
The way we envision providing those positions across the province or wherever throughout the province, I guess one way would be - I think the Premier's mentioned on many occasions, and I have as well, that we're very concerned about the issue of drugs, particularly in our youth, around schools and communities. We've seen a lot of incidents around the province that we need to take a hard, serious look at the effects drugs, particularly young people, have on their lives socially, in schools, in their communities, and how it affects them and affects their ability to progress in life.
That's one area where I see we will be looking, whether it's communities, whether it's police agencies, maybe it's a group of police agencies in a particular area who have an issue over drugs, who may come to us with a plan as to how they see addressing that plan and how they would require additional resources to attack that particular issue. I've had many discussions with the member for Dartmouth North about some of the criminal activity in his area and how HRM is doing everything they possibly can with their resources to deal with that specific issue.
What I would look forward to as the Minister of Justice, and I know in having some discussion with my colleagues, is that we would be looking for specific projects to be brought forward, and they would be reviewed with possible outcomes and how the benefit would be for citizens of Nova Scotia, particularly in the issue around crime, in particular youth crime. So we would be looking for different organizations to come forward with specific projects so we could consider, and hopefully put the needed resources in place to address those issues.
MR. MCNEIL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the minister for that. I want to share my time with my colleague, but I have another issue that has come up in my constituency. It has been brought to my attention by a constituent regarding a citizens complaint that ends up going to court on a motor vehicle infraction. I had one citizen complaining against another, a police officer ends up taking it to court and it ends up being a frivolous complaint. That citizen ends up not only having to ensure that he has representation at court but, really, he has no recourse to find out how come it ended up in court other than somebody saying another citizen made that accusation. They have no recourse to go back, have that officer find out, or that officer explain, quite frankly, why, other than the individual force that was involved reviewing itself.
I'm wondering if you could look at that and tell me if there's a way we can deal with that to ensure that all Nova Scotians feel like they're being treated fairly by the justice system.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite for the question. Just so I'm sure I understand, I believe the honourable member is talking about one citizen making a complaint with regard to another citizen and the police officer investigating and laying a charge. I'm not quite sure if I understand.
MR. MCNEIL: I'll just try to clarify. What happens, though, the court says, why is that here? This is a frivolous complaint, there's no basis for this complaint. It's turfed out. Unfortunately, that citizen has had to have legal representation to go to court with him and he has no recourse on the officer to say - at what point does the officer have to say, you know what, I've done due diligence, this is why we've ended up in court, and say that to the citizen, as opposed to an internal investigation that takes place inside that department. That is the real crux of the issue, whether or not they can defend - they laid the charges, now defend it to the citizen that they've laid the charges against. All they have to do is, and one way to do that, quite frankly, up front, is just to be able to release the documentation that they had around that particular complaint to that citizen.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member for the clarification. Just so I'm sure I understand. Police officers are called to do an investigation. When you're from a small community, a lot of times you know the players, you know the individuals, you know the background, you know the history. I always approached it that it wasn't my decision as to whether someone was guilty or not, my job was to do a proper investigation. My responsibility was not only for the victim, but the accused, as well, to ensure a proper investigation was done. If it was a complaint that was deemed to go before the courts, then it was done. A lot of times, if it was a questionable case and facts, there would be some discussion with the local Crown prosecutor, a decision would be made from there whether or not a conviction could be found.
Then, again, if a police officer conducts an investigation and a member of the public feels they didn't do it in a proper fashion or they didn't carry out their duties in the right manner, there is a process in place for that member of the public to make a complaint, first of all to the chief, and if they're not satisfied with that, it can go to the police complaints officer in Nova Scotia.
I think there are lots of opportunities for a member and citizen to actually make a complaint and have it followed through. Again, my experience has been, normally, when police officers carry out their duties, they do it in a way that they're credible, and when they get to court, particularly if they have to give evidence themselves, they have to justify why they laid a particular charge. I think there is ample opportunity for a member of the public to bring before those who would examine that, lots of opportunity to have that done.
MR. MCNEIL: This may be an isolated case, Mr. Minister, where it's falling through - but I do want to be on record as not questioning the professionalism of the
police forces across this province, we are all served extremely well. I have family gatherings that I have to attend every once in awhile, so I have to say the right things about the police officers in this province.
Really, the question is to ensure that the victim is not the victim again. That's what the concern is. We followed this through from a particular issue right through, and it ends up kind of just chasing your tail around. A tremendous amount of frustration for them.
I'm going to share the rest of my time with the honourable Leader of the Liberal Party. I just want to close by thanking the minister, and I look forward to his visit to Annapolis Royal, and we'll solve that issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm certainly pleased to see the minister here for his estimates for the first time, and the numerous pieces of legislation that we've been seeing coming forward. With the short amount of time that I do have left, I had a number of questions.
Mr. Minister, I'm wondering if you could you tell me, has the increase in the jurisdictional limits, finance-wise, of these small claims courts, have those been put in place yet - if yes, when, and if not, when?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the honourable member opposite. Unfortunately, I can't answer your first question. I'm sorry, I will get those facts for you just in a moment or so, if you just give me a moment. Maybe you want to go to another question and I will provide that to you very shortly.
If I could, just while I have the floor - the honourable member mentioned about legislation. Unfortunately I forgot to mention earlier, and the critic for the Official Opposition is not here, but I do want to go on the record as thanking the member opposite, the Leader of the Liberal Party, and as well the House Leader for the Official Opposition, thank them for the support on these Justice bills that we have been putting through the House. It has been a share of ideas among all three Parties and I think that at the end of the day Nova Scotians are going to benefit from these laws that we are putting through the legislation, so I want to thank the honourable members for that.
MR. SAMSON: While the minister is waiting for that information - based on the question I asked yesterday about maintenance enforcement officers, Mr. Minister, you have indicated that in this budget you are going to employ an additional five maintenance enforcement officers. I'm curious if your department has a plan as to where those
enforcement officers will be placed, and can the minister provide us more information on the future of the now closed Yarmouth office?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, first of all I should clarify that there is no additional funding in this budget for the five. The five positions were ones that were already announced. Two of those five have gone to Sydney - there is a special unit that has been organized in Sydney to deal specifically with reciprocal agreements outside this province. In other words I think it's 10 per cent of maintenance enforcement orders actually move outside this province or in other jurisdictions, so we have established a three-person unit in Sydney to specifically deal with those out-of-province issues both inside and outside of Nova Scotia. The other three locations I'm not quite sure of at this point, but we can get that for the honourable member.
The other thing is, in regard to the Yarmouth issue, the issue came up earlier and I mentioned that, yes, that position that was at Yarmouth had been moved to Kentville and there were some issues within the department about that, some concerns about it. First of all, apparently about the numbers they were actually addressing in the Yarmouth area, but more particularly, I guess, the issues around workplace safety and other folks would be in the same department and work with these people and that they would work in a safe environment.
I did make a commitment, as I mentioned earlier the Minister of Economic Development from Yarmouth - in fact when I was down there and visited his site two or three months ago, brought that issue forward to them and showed me the location. We have had several discussions about it since and, as I mentioned earlier this morning in estimates, I made the commitment that there will be face-to-face maintenance enforcement service for the people of the Yarmouth area. The actual physical person who was there will be working in the Kentville office, but we are going to ensure that the people of the Yarmouth area have that face-to-face service that they need in the Yarmouth area.
MR. SAMSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess we will wait to hear from the residents of Yarmouth and the surrounding area whether they feel that's sufficient, or whether they would like to see a permanent presence there. I'm not in a position to be able to speak on their behalf.
You indicated that two of the positions in Sydney are to deal with outside, inter-jurisdictional orders for enforcement, and I'm curious as to why those were placed in Cape Breton. Is it because of the caseload? Is it because there is a higher amount coming from that geographic area that deal with inter-jurisdictional? Or is it the first signs of your government starting to decentralize provincial Civil Service jobs here in our fine province?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, back to the issue of the Small Claims Court - that was in fact increased from $15,000 to $25,000, and it was effective April 1, 2006. As I mentioned earlier, my understanding is that approximately 10 per cent of the maintenance enforcement cases actually moved from our province, but there are cases from throughout Canada that come here for assistance with their orders as well. The maintenance enforcement office in Sydney, the manager there, offered to take this task on. The manager felt it was an opportunity, both for some folks in that office to have some expertise in those specific types of programs, but it offered an opportunity to create a couple of positions, a couple of jobs, in the Sydney area as well.
I think it's a win-win all the way around. I actually think it's a good move, and the department did as well. Again, the manager there offered to undertake this task - he saw an opportunity for his own office to grow. We think it's a positive move.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, we were getting concerned in Cape Breton that the only government jobs we were going to see was the opening in the Sydney Cabinet Office and possibly a new position for someone at Grant Thornton at Sydney Steel. So I'm pleased to see that there's actually a couple more jobs coming to Cape Breton through the government, within the Civil Service.
I think Ian MacPherson is your manager now in Sydney, and let me say that Ian has been a true pleasure to work with, from my office, and has certainly been a tremendous asset. In fact, Ian has not only taken care of files for me that are within his office, he has taken care of files in the New Glasgow office, the Halifax office, wherever they might be found. He is a tremendous asset to the Civil Service, and I do hope you will pass on those comments - and I'm sure your staff and your management are well aware of the competence Ian brings to that position.
You indicated that April 1st is when the increase in the Small Claims Court jurisdiction went up to $25,000. There is concern within the legal community that that $25,000 limit may be too high for the Small Claims Court process; in fact, it may open the door for more complex, complicated matters being put in front of small claims, an extra burden on adjudicators. There have been a number of issues, and I've raised them here in the House, and I know that my colleague, the Justice Critic for the NDP, has raised those as well.
I wonder, could the minister indicate if there is anyone in the department who is keeping an eye on this, or is there any sort of committee that may be asked to look at this in six months, a year, talking with the adjudicators, talking with the people involved, just to make sure that we haven't put that limit too high and that we're somehow starting to overstep the spirit of the Small Claims Court process? I'm just curious, could the
minister indicate if there is anyone even watching this, from your department's perspective, for any possible negative effects?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for the question. The answer is yes, the department has put a committee together to look at - again, it's around the issue of that increase and possible legislation changes that we may require in the future and, as well, to ensure that number is working. I can tell you that it has been indicated to me that the department will be watching very closely the effects of this increase to ensure that we appreciate and understand what those changes make, if there are any. We definitely will be watching, yes.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, how much time do I have remaining?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Almost six minutes.
MR. SAMSON: That's not much time. A couple of things, Mr. Minister, and because there's only six minutes I may not be able to put all of them to you for an answer today.
The concern that I've raised in the past, and your staff would be aware of it, is a number of years ago your government moved from using private lawyers to deal with the Department of Community Services and Children's Aid cases, especially dealing with child custody issues, and instead went to in-house counsel rather than using private lawyers throughout the province. I know there are still some private lawyers who are doing some of this work, but the bulk of it has been moved over to in-house lawyers.
The question I've always had is the justification for doing so was apparently to actually save the government money - I've asked on numerous occasions to have some sort of a report or any sort of financial review that could tell us, yes, this move, at the end of the day, has saved the government money, it has provided the same quality of service, and the taxpayers have gotten value for dollar in the move from private practice to in-house counsel to deal with these sensitive, very timely matters dealing with Children's Aid and the Department of Community Service's files.
So maybe the minister could have a look at that to see whether any sort of financial analysis has been done. I believe the deputy minister has told me in the past, yes, we save money, but when asked to show us the numbers, I don't believe that actual review to provide the financial breakdown of the costs prior and the costs after - we have a duty to taxpayers. If the government is going to say it made a decision to save taxpayers money, then the least they can do is show us that there actually has been a saving and, more importantly, that there hasn't been a reduction in the quality of the service, because that was a concern, as well.
During my time articling in private practice, I did have the opportunity to be exposed to a number of these files, and many of them require affidavits and protection orders in the middle of the night. They're very timely, and certainly any lawyer working on this, it isn't an 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. position. You can have orders and forms to be filled out on very short notice, and, as I said, sometimes in the middle of the night. I would hope the minister would be prepared to provide a financial analysis. If that's not done, I know certainly my next step would be to ask the Auditor General to go in and look and say did we get value for dollar in this. If your department has already done it, then there's no need to go down that road, and maybe the minister will be able to indicate that.
I know a number of the members have raised the issue of Legal Aid. It's a tremendous service that Legal Aid provides. Any additional investments are welcome investments. I do hope that the income cap will be increased. It's very difficult for people to meet that threshold. It's so low right now, and yet there are people in situations who clearly cannot afford to hire a lawyer on their own. Allow me to also take the opportunity - and I hope the minister will pass on these comments - the head of the Legal Aid Commission and the board, I can tell you, have been very kind to me as the MLA for Richmond, in trying to ask them to look past the specific guidelines, in some cases, to help families in need. I can tell you that every request I have made to date, they have found to be able to meet the needs that I brought to their attention. I certainly hope the minister will convey my thanks to them, and recognize that you do have tremendous people working not only as Legal Aid staff, but the people in the administration of that program, with the limited funds they have.
I just got one recently, before the election. I told the constituent, this is pretty much impossible but I'll make the request. Somehow they managed to find a way, and I think they're going to be able to help this gentleman. There were extenuating circumstances, but they seem to have found a way to be able to make it happen.
I can't encourage the minister enough, I've raised this in the past, we can talk about youth crime and talk about adding new penalties and new punishments, but we need to work as a province to figure out why our young people are getting in trouble in the first place. Second of all, what programs and additional efforts can we undertake to make sure we get at them early, either before they get in trouble or after they start getting in trouble, that we can somehow find the means of giving them the services to make sure they go on the path of being good, contributing citizens to our society and not continue to be faced with problems. I've raised that with the government before.
I know there are some efforts to establish a treatment program for young people here, as part of the Throne Speech. I do hope that will be followed through, and that more efforts will be undertaken so when we do have home invasions and we do have young people involved with swarmings and other activities, that we are trying to figure out why
they're doing this, rather than just figuring out how we can punish them. I think that's an important step that we need to take.
I believe that's probably going to take up the rest of my time. I wish the minister well, and I do hope he will pass on my comments to his Legal Aid staff, certainly to Mr. MacPherson, and to all your hardworking Maintenance Enforcement people. I hope your additional officers will help reduce that average caseload of 728 files per enforcement officer. They do a great job, but I don't think anyone would say 728 files per person is normal or acceptable. They need some help if they're going to continue to be effective - and there are many families out in our province who need them to be effective in the job that they do.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired for the member.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member for his comments today, and I want to start off by thanking the honourable member again for his good comments around staff, as other members have made as well, because I hear it on a regular basis and I think we should all be very proud of the staff the Department of Justice has throughout this province. I indicated earlier, over 1,000 people work for this department. That's a large number of human resource to manage, but I can tell you that I'm very proud of this department and I'm proud of the staff. It's well run; it's very efficient. The staff will be very appreciative to hear the comments by the honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.
Something that has come up here a lot today, and he brought it up again, was the issue around maintenance enforcement. As I indicated earlier, we had some interdepartmental discussion, so the other departments are involved here as well, and we're going to take a serious look at the issues of - you know, the folks in the system now do a fantastic job and they can only do what is humanly possible. As the member mentioned, 700-plus cases, but I still want to remind members that a 78 per cent recovery rate I would say is very good and, again, we can do better, we can always do better. If we don't reach 100 per cent, then there's always room to move, but we will continue to support those folks and will continue to review the resources they have and attempt to provide them with additional resources.
The honourable member requested that if we could provide the information, numbers I guess, using public employees versus the private sector, yes, we will. As we arrive at those numbers or can get them, they'll be provided to the honourable member.
Regarding Legal Aid, the $700,000 that we're providing this year is intended to provide the additional certificates which will be in the private sector. That's where Legal Aid, you know it's almost $0.75 million, $700,000, they'll be able to use in that regard but, as well, we've also provided an additional $125,000 so that the Nova Scotia
Legal Aid Commission can review the present situation in regard to those who can access Legal Aid services. I know the honourable member is concerned about the entrance level for income and I'm sure that staff there are concerned about the same issue as well. This money is being allocated for exactly that - to determine, process accessibility and entrance requirements - and we'll look forward to the results of that study they do and the recommendations that come back to the Department of Justice, because it is a serious issue and something that we want to collectively attempt to address.
The final comment I would like to make is that it should be noted that Justice Nunn mentioned in his comments, he gave credit to the great programming at Waterville and the ability to provide that programming at that institution for youth. So I think that we should never underestimate or undermine - or not undermine, but we never give full credit to present programs that are available in this province for all citizens, whether for adults or youth, and again we can always provide additional resources, additional programming, and we will do that.
As I mentioned earlier to the member for Cape Breton Nova, I want to give special thought and consideration to how we're going to address this issue of youth because they're our leaders of tomorrow and they're the ones who we're going to turn our communities and our province over to, so we have to do all we can to provide the proper training, proper programming, proper resources, proper assessments, whatever it is, whether it's at the attendance centre that we're going to be creating in Halifax, whether it's present programs available throughout this province, we, together, through our departments, as members of the Legislature, and as citizens of this province, have to do all we can to ensure that our youth are the best possible citizens they can be.
So again to the Leader of the Liberal Party, thank you for your comments, particularly towards our staff because it's much appreciated and we'll ensure those individuals are aware of your comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Queens on an introduction.
MS. VICKI CONRAD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It pleases me to bring to the attention of the House today that we have a guest in the west gallery, David Young, from the riding of Queens. David has been a long-standing member of the Queens NDP Association and has worked very hard over the last several years and worked most hard on the recent election campaign for me. I would like to welcome David to the House and, in true fashion, if all the members would give David a warm welcome. Thank you. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I welcome all our guests, today, to the gallery.
The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to associate myself with comments of the Leader in speaking to the good work of the staff the minister has. I want to say for the whole bureaucracy of the province - I think it takes quite a good bureaucracy working hard to try to make that government look good, so I think we should take our hat off to them.
I am going to ask, it might be my only question, Mr. Minister, but it is an issue I have raised, I don't know if this is the third or fourth estimates in which I have raised it, but I just want to know are you going to meet with Mike Trask?
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the honourable member for his opening comments, I think. I am very hesitant, I have to be honest, to discuss the matters of an individual on the floor of this House. I have said on many occasions before that although I am sure members come here, and they come here with permission of those individuals to raise their name, I believe we are here to talk about policy, we are here to talk about the budget, I am here to defend the government and my department around initiatives.
I will say that the honourable member and I have had discussions around the issue he brings before the House. I believe the department, to this point, has made some overtures, offered some resolve to an issue that he brings before us. I would encourage the member to talk to that individual about giving his due consideration.
I will say this, the honourable member, again, we have talked about this a lot. I think the honourable member would agree that there was some correspondence that was sent from Corrections, from the Department of Justice, to my knowledge, and I believe has never been responded to, an offer to resolve a situation that is very unfortunate. Correctional Services in this province has an excellent group of employees, and when the Department of Justice makes decisions, they have to make those decisions for the best of all. I think it is important for all of us to ensure that issues are brought to us. They are certainly brought to the attention of people who can give consideration to those.
There was a second issue, I know, that we talked about within the past week. In fact, I think I signed a letter within the last few days. I believe that issue is resolved, the financial issue.
Beyond that, my predecessor, the Minister of Justice, met, as the member requested. As the member I am sure would agree as well, I offered to meet with the member when we can get a few minutes away from the busy time here to discuss that
issue. I am not saying no to his request at this point, but I am not so sure if there is anything we can gain by doing that. Again, if there is anything that I can help with on the issue. I know Mr. Honsberger has indicated to me, as well, that he would like to have it resolved. I know the department is really looking forward to having some sort of resolve to this whole issue, because it is not healthy for the individual you bring forward today, it is not healthy for other staff, it is not healthy for our department to have issues like this go on and on for such a long time.
So, first of all, I would encourage the member to give consideration to the last offer that was made from Corrections, and to at least respond to that.
I would end off by saying this, I would ask, on behalf of the department, what it is that would resolve it, because I am not sure myself at this point. I am willing to talk to the member about this at any time he thinks we can find time to do it, and, if as a result of that, we collectively agree between us that it needs a meeting again with the individual whose name he has brought forward, then I will certainly give it consideration. I would like, first of all, for the member to encourage a response to the department's request to resolve this. If that doesn't work, then the member and I need to sit down and talk further about it. I will commit to that once the House closes. It is just that I have been quite busy in the last couple of weeks, as I am sure you could appreciate.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I don't want you to speak to the specifics of it, I wouldn't care to have that discussed on the floor of the House. The letter you refer to, I gave to Mr. Trask. He had never gotten it from the Department of Justice, even though it was addressed to him. When I gave it to him he said, I've never seen this. He did give me a response, which I thought I either delivered to you or sent in, but he made up a response to that letter, which you should have. So where it went I don't know. As far as the meeting with him, it may not help, but I think it can't hurt.
MR. SCOTT: To the member opposite, thank you. I guess what I was offering or asking was if the specific request from the department, from Corrections, could be responded to. There may have been a response, a document response, and you probably provided me with that, and I think I passed that on, but if you would review that response I don't think it actually said yes or no to the offers being made by the department. The department wants to resolve this, and they want to resolve it as soon as they can.
Again, I've spoken with Mr. Honsberger, who is here today. I would just encourage that maybe the member could take another look at that letter that the department offered as a resolve and decide yourself whether you think it's reasonable, because I've looked at it, and from what I know about it, I think that the department is reaching out, because I think there have been a lot of issues, there has been mediation, I believe. There have been lots of attempts to resolve this, and it should be resolved once and for all.
So I would ask the honourable member if he could review the offer from the department, see if you think it's reasonable, and then try to get some sort of response back to the department. If it's not reasonable, what is it that's being asked?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think we only have 14 minutes left in Supply, in total. I had a few questions I wanted to get on the record before we wrap up. One of them is, the federal government announced in its recent budget, I believe, 1,000 new officers in Canada, $161 million, which we believe works out to about 30 to 60 new officers in Nova Scotia. I'm assuming those are RCMP officers, so I'm assuming their being funded directly by the federal government. So I want to know (a) is it being funded directly, or is the money being transferred to the province, and (b) where does the minister see those officers specifically going?
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the House Leader of the Official Opposition for the question, something he knows I have a real keen interest in. In fact, we had travelled to Ottawa in, I guess, April or March, and met with Minister Toews and Minister Day about issues around justice here in this province and some initiatives that we would like see worked upon.
I think the member will understand the first 1,000 that's been announced by the federal government would be federal officers, there would be a portion, I'm sure, throughout the province, but they would determine where and when and all that. There are 1,000 federal positions. Above and beyond that, there are an additional 2,500 that the federal government is talking about. We actually talked to the federal minister about giving consideration to Nova Scotians.
I'll tell you specifically about the Halifax area - and I offered this to the minister - because I think that if they want to look at a project where they could commit additional resources, put them an area and see a tremendous result, it is in this area. This is a result of statistics that they're all well aware of, and I recited those to the minister. In fact, we offered that if they wanted to do a pilot project in Canada, what a better place to do it. Those statistics, I think, would certainly justify and support that we should do something here in Nova Scotia, and I think the federal government would receive positive result from that.
I think we certainly had a good year from a minister who is willing to give consideration to all - and I guess the commitment he made was, I believe the words were that we would certainly receive our share. I am sure when it comes about to allocating those resources, we will.
Again, when it comes to the specific instances or issues, I think there's an opportunity for Ottawa to take advantage of a situation that we have right now that we need help with, and if they were so minded to do so - that was what we offered them, but that's our understanding of how those resources will be allocated.
MR. DEVEAUX: I'm assuming that the 2,500 you're mentioning are ones that have not been confirmed yet?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I think the member's right, these would be ones the federal government has talked about over and above the 1,000. I think they've committed the 1,000 and they're looking at an additional 2,500. Again, those 1,000 are federal positions, but they will be somewhere in this country. We believe there's an opportunity for Nova Scotia to take advantage of a per capita percentage, or whatever, of those 1,000 positions here in Nova Scotia, but we want to have some say as to how they will allocate those as well, particularly the 2,500.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to go on to court security because I believe this is an issue, that your department has announced that they were doing a review of security in courts and there was some talk - even I think the chief justice was talking about more airport-style security with metal detectors and such, and I want to get a sense of the direction your department is going. Do you see more technical support for security, because one of the things a lot of people have been saying is that having a sheriff or having someone in every courtroom is important not only for purposes of security but for purposes of support to the other court staff - answering questions, for example, when the clerk or judge is busy. I'm wondering if you see your review moving towards fewer staff in the courtroom security and more use of the metal detectors - I want to get a sense of (a) what the review mandate is; and (b) when do you see that being completed?
MR. SCOTT: Again, I thank the member opposite for a very good question. The member will recall that we had an incident at a satellite court involving one of our Crown prosecutors and as a result of that incident - and I think we were already in the process several months before that, but it certainly brought more attention to the issue, but prior to that the department had initiated an evaluation process of not only our courthouses and justice centres throughout Nova Scotia, but all of the satellite offices as well. The assessment that's presently being done is a thorough assessment; in fact it takes about a week for each location. The group doing the evaluation - we have folks from our own court services and the sheriffs are all involved - they're talking to the judiciary, the legal services, so there's actually a full week of evaluation done on each site.
We have 35- plus sites in the province, so you can appreciate the amount of time it's going to take to do this; they're going from location to location. I believe they're actually using some monitoring equipment at these sites - a walk-through similar to what we have here in Province House - just to get a feel of the impact it would have on the
location and how it would fit in with that type of scenario. I'm really looking forward to the results of this evaluation - again it's taking place throughout the province, a very intense evaluation I might say, including all sites. Once the report comes back then I guess we'll have to try to make some decisions around what type of security, if we decide to, is going to required to be put in places.
I'm sure the member would appreciate there were some legitimate concerns brought forward by people from various sides in regard to that issue that happened at that satellite courthouse. I think we have to show due diligence, we have to seriously look at security in courthouses of this province and satisfy all, whether they are employees or people who visit those sites, whatever, we have to be sure they are provided with the proper security in those facilities.
MR. DEVEAUX: Can the minister assure this House today that the review will not result in the removal of sheriffs from the courtrooms, and that it is still the intention of your department to have a sheriff in every courtroom after this review?
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the issue of resources or people in facilities throughout this province probably varies day to day; in fact, my own experience as a police officer going to court, some days there wouldn't be any sheriffs there that day. What I will commit to the member opposite today is that as a result of this review there's no intent to decrease the amount of physical security, whether it's court people, whether it's sheriffs - so there's absolutely no intent to do that. I think that it was brought to the attention of the Department of Justice that we have to take a look at all of our courtrooms and our satellites and our full-time courtrooms to ensure that they're safe - safe for the judges, safe for the prosecutors, the lawyers, the charged, and the people who visit there for other types of business.
I want to reassure the member here today that there's no intent here to reduce the number of bodies as they presently are - now there may be courtrooms that don't have sheriffs in them at all, but I'm just saying there is no intent to reduce the resources we presently have in the courtrooms in Nova Scotia.
MR. DEVEAUX: This is a question I think I ask every year. We actually have a two-tiered Family Court system in this province, where in Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipalities we have Supreme Court Family Division and in the rest of the province we still have a Family Court Provincial Division. I think we've been waiting a long time for the other shoe to drop with regard to the federal government taking over the Family Court Provincial Division. I guess I was hoping, for the record, could you give us an update as to where those talks are and whether or not we can see at any time in the immediate future the Supreme Court Family Division across the province?
MR. SCOTT: Thank you to the member opposite. What I will tell the honourable member is this - I know he has heard the same message from the previous minister, Minister Baker, and I can make the same commitment myself - in fact, our deputy has been at several meetings where he has encouraged the federal government that we want to see the unified Family Court right across this province.
As the member mentioned, there's a great opportunity here to provide a service to the people of this province that they deserve. It's available here in HRM, it's available in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, but it's not available elsewhere throughout the province. So we are committed; in fact, that's a priority and again, the deputy, who meets with these folks a lot more than I do, on a regular basis raises issues to try to encourage the federal government. We believe they haven't made a decision yet, but we're looking for a positive resolve of this and we'll continue pressing them until we get that resolved.
MR. DEVEAUX: So at this point it's up to the federal government. Basically they started this project, but the federal government at this point has decided not to carry on to complete the project. Is it fair to say that they started the project, but at this point are unwilling to commit to complete it?
MR. SCOTT: To the honourable member, yes, it is with the federal government. There has been a proposal put forward to them from Nova Scotia in which we've asked for 11 additional federally appointed judges, and the staff to complement as well. Again, we believe it's the right thing to do and, yes, it's in their court. They would actually need Cabinet decision to do that, expand across the country, and we'll continue to press them to do that until we see the resolve of the issue.
MR. DEVEAUX: With my last couple of minutes remaining, I just want to sum up, because obviously I didn't have much time to ask a lot of questions on this issue. This is a department, I want to say for the record, with good staff who do a lot of good work. I understand that. It's a diverse department - from Correctional Services to Maintenance Enforcement to the Public Prosecution Service - and I know they work hard.
The minister knows that I've raised some issues in this House in the past, and I've been glad to see co-operation on the issues we have been able to co-operate on. I would suggest the department really needs to start getting away from the silos - and I'm hopeful with this minister we can do that - because particularly with regard to youth criminal justice so many of the issues involve Community Services, the education system, the Department of Health, Health Promotion, in the work that is needed to be done, and because your department is sort of the last stop, if we can provide services for youth and
for our children before they get in trouble with the law, then that can help reduce a lot of the requirements from your department to have to be involved in having these youth involved in the justice system.
I know there's CAYAC. I know what CAYAC is, but I'm not so sure CAYAC is working anymore, and I'm wondering if there needs to be either a revitalization of the concept or some form of silo breaking down that ensures we are going to definitely have the ability of all the departments in government to work together to address these problems and provide resources, whether that's in our schools for children with behavioural problems, or whether that's Health Promotion providing more recreational funding and more services - for example, more money for drop-in centres - these are the sorts of things that need to be done before the Department of Justice even gets involved.
I would hope those are things we might be able to do in the near future to ensure we are able to do that. I would hope these are things that we can do by having co-operation amongst the departments, because otherwise we're in a situation where you are forced to have to deal with the end result, which is children who in many cases are bored, many cases have behaviourial issues, and are unable to ensure that they're able to get the job done.
So on that point, I think that's the end of time for Supply. I wanted to thank you and your staff for their time here in the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the estimates has expired.
The honourable Minister of Justice, for a couple minutes of closing remarks, if he wishes.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to take the opportunity to thank the members opposite. I want to thank the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and I mentioned earlier the Leader of the Liberal Party, on behalf of this department and myself, I thank them for their support in regard to legislation that we have before this House, which is very important to Nova Scotians, and we'll bring into law many issues that we want to see pushed forward. I also want to thank all honourable members for their questions today, because the administration of justice in Nova Scotia is very important to all Nova Scotians. We want to ensure transparency and accountability in our justice system, and these debates support our efforts.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer my thanks, as well, to the staff who have assisted me here today, two of whom are sitting with me, as well as many who are up in the gallery who helped me throughout these discussions and have prepared a lot of the reports and a lot of the information I have been able to share today. As well, I would like to thank all the staff in the department, and the partners throughout Nova Scotia.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I move Resolution E11.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E11 stand?
Resolution E11 stands.
That concludes our 40 hours of estimates.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met for the time allotted and considered the various estimates assigned to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall the remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and recommend the estimates to the favourable consideration of the House.
[The committee rose at 12:35 p.m.]