HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2018
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Suzanne Lohnes-Croft
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Would you please call the estimates of the Department of Justice.
Resolution E13 – Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $354,581,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would now like to invite the minister to make some opening comments, if he so wishes, and to introduce his staff to the members of the committee.
The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MARK FUREY: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to be here today. It’s a privilege for me to be presenting the Department of Justice Estimates for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
If I may ask my colleagues in the Official Opposition, as well as the New Democratic Party, because I have responsibility for the Labour Relations portfolio if we could save those questions for the end it would be helpful in ensuring the staff are available to be specific to answer those questions.
I look forward to, once again, speaking to Nova Scotians about the important work that the department, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, and our many other justice partners are doing to keep our justice system fair, open, and accessible, where possible. I think we have a good story to tell.
Before we get under way, I would like to introduce to the committee, Deputy Minister Karen Hudson, and Director of Finance Lisa MacKinnon for the Department of Justice. Both are here to assist me today with questions that my colleagues may present.
I am also joined in the gallery by Chris Collett, Executive Director of Correctional Services; Diana MacKinnon, Executive Director of Court Services; Roger Merrick, Director of Public Safety and Security; Bob Purcell, the department’s lead on the legalization of cannabis; as well as other members of our team who are in attendance today; and those who are also following the proceedings from our offices.
As Attorney General, I also have responsibility for the Public Prosecution Service. Also in the gallery, I want to welcome Martin Herschorn, Director of Public Prosecutions.
There are also a number of independent agencies and commissions that report to the minister, including the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, which has done significant work in strengthening the commission in making some important strides in protecting the rights of marginalized Nova Scotians over the past several years. I want to welcome Christine Hanson, CEO of the commission, who is also in the gallery with us today.
Justice also has the responsibility for the office in charge of Freedom of Information and Privacy Review; the office of the Police Complaints Commission; and the province’s Accessibility Directorate. Others include the Public Trustee; the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner’s Office; the Serious Incident Response Team; and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
As you can tell, Justice has many significant responsibilities. Our mandate touches on many aspects of people’s lives and the freedoms that we all enjoy. It is a responsibility that I, and the Department of Justice team - all 1,700 - we take this very seriously.
For those not familiar with the department, I want to quickly touch on our core responsibilities of policing, court operations and sheriff services, corrections, and legal services.
One of our most important jobs is making sure we keep the public safe and our communities well protected. Nova Scotia continues to have police officers well above the national average, at 192 for every 100,000 people - that is the third highest in the country. Our Public Safety Division has the responsibility for public safety initiatives across the province, including oversight and advice to police.
We also have responsibility for private security services and crime prevention. It is also our job to ensure the court system runs efficiently, that people are treated fairly and without bias, and that marginalized and vulnerable Nova Scotians have access to justice. We remain focused on improving access and removing these barriers.
We not only want victims and survivors to have easier access to services and programs, we also want them to feel that justice has truly been served, which is what we are achieving through the recent expansion of the Restorative Justice Program to adults.
Madam Chairman, we continue to lead the country in restorative justice. In the past year, more than 949 cases have been referred to the program as of the end of December. Restorative justice has proven to be a good option for victims, offenders, and communities. Offenders take responsibility for their actions and truly understand the harm they have done. This helps victims and their families get closer and that helps in the healing process.
Many of you will have seen the Canadian Press story over the weekend where a father, Ernie LeBlanc, whose son Jason died in custody from an overdose, chose to engage in a restorative justice process. A corrections staff on duty that night, along with a Nova Scotia Health Authority nurse, also agreed to participate. All parties agreed that it was a transformative, powerful process and helped break down the walls of mistrust. The process resulted in some real improvements to our policies and procedures in corrections, which will make things safer for individuals in our custody.
We want every Nova Scotian who comes into contact with the justice system to have equal and accessible justice; restorative justice is part of that. While we continue to make progress, we know there is more work to do.
The welfare of people who are sentenced or remanded to our adult and youth correctional facilities is also a primary responsibility. We have this responsibility for making sure people in our custody are kept safe and that we are doing our very best to reintegrate them successfully back into society when they complete their sentence.
Their safety is our priority and we have made some significant investments to keep them and our correctional services staff safe. Those include investments in body scanners at each of our four adult facilities to prevent the smuggling of drugs and other contraband into jails - in fact, the scanners landed at the Halifax airport just last week and will be installed and operational . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Could we bring the chatter in the Chamber down, please, it’s distracting the minister.
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Madam Chairman.
In fact, the scanners I referenced landed at Halifax airport last week and will be installed and operational in the weeks ahead.
Madam Chairman, these devices will save lives. Nova Scotia, like the rest of the country, is wrestling with the issue of opioid addiction and specifically the ravages of synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanyl are having. Our correctional facilities now have naloxone kits on-site to immediately deal with opioid overdose emergencies, which allow them to take immediate action instead of waiting for paramedics. Three lives have already been saved in our jails since naloxone was made available to Correctional Services and health care staff through the province’s opioid framework announced last summer.
I might also add, Madam Chairman, that we have also made sure that naloxone is available for police across the province. Police officers equipped with naloxone have reversed overdoses and saved five lives in 2017. A lot of credit must go to the foresight by the health professionals and Health and Wellness and our Public Safety Division for taking action proactively on a societal issue.
Keeping with corrections for a moment longer, our ongoing investment in the renovation of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility is progressing well. This renovation will help us deliver a direct supervision model. Direct supervision, seen as a best practice in the corrections environment, is proven to increase both the safety of staff and inmates, improve staff/offender relations, and an improved work environment. It has been in place at Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility since it opened three years ago and continues to work well.
We are also upgrading security surveillance at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility this year and conducting a design study for a new correctional facility in Cape Breton to replace the facility in Sydney. When it comes to Correctional Services, our focus is on prevention and innovation to provide for the safety and security of all Nova Scotians.
Madam Chairman, I just want to give you a couple of examples of the exciting and innovative work under way in this division. Correctional Services is partnering this year with the Nova Scotia Community College to work with and educate offenders to prepare them to successfully integrate back to society. Corrections is also developing pilot programs with the Elizabeth Fry Society to support the reintegration of female offenders and to provide them with an opportunity to participate in programming that will allow them to serve a portion of their sentence in the community, with proper supports for their risks and needs.
Our probation offices are working closely with community justice societies to deliver restorative justice to more Nova Scotians. Correctional Services, through a collaborative process with our First Nation communities, will soon be assigning the first full-time Aboriginal liaison officer - this position will support the needs of First Nation people in our facilities and communities.
I am also pleased to highlight that our Community Corrections Probation Office in Sydney is working with the IWK to add a forensic psychologist to the Cape Breton Youth Integrated Services Team. These partnerships are key to providing much-needed mental health interventions to youth in communities and transitioning them from custody.
Madam Chairman, we are working hard to modernize and move corrections away from its traditional silo and engage community in a more meaningful way.
Providing legal advice to government is another of our core responsibilities I wish to highlight. Our Legal Services staff play a crucial role in the work we do, providing all departments of government with sound legal advice in helping government achieve its priorities. We will be investing $800,000 and hiring six FTEs as we move to modernize the division and ensure that it has the technology and resources it needs to deliver legal services to government.
Our legal team is highly respected and they do an excellent job representing the Crown and protecting the public interest when called upon through the courts. The work they do touches on all aspects of government business. Heather Oke, a lawyer in our Solicitor Services Division, was instrumental in providing legal advice over the course of the last number of years on the new Nova Centre. We also have renowned expertise within the division. For example, Peter McVey, one of our litigators, recently published the annotated Children and Family Services Act. This in-depth book has quickly become a go-to resource for members of the Bar and the judiciary in Nova Scotia involved in child protection proceedings. Madam Chairman, these are just two examples.
Although not visible and apparent in the day-to-day operations of government, our Legal Services team, made up of highly skilled and competent women and men, contribute so much behind the scenes to the functionality of government. Madam Chairman, our goal at the Department of Justice is to ensure that we are responsive to the needs of all Nova Scotians. Everything we do in Justice must be put through the social justice lens. I’m a firm believer that society is best served by a justice system that is responsive on support, rehabilitation, and reintegration rather than exclusively on punishment. We must always be mindful that many of the people who come into contact with the justice system have been victimized, traumatized, and inherently vulnerable.
Many of them are women. Women need to feel safe and feel free from violence in their home, their place of work, and in their communities. As a police officer, too often I saw the devastating effects of domestic violence on women and children. Too many times in my career I had to respond to crimes of sexual violence against women and girls. And it’s not just about women as victims, it is about power and balance. We see this every day in personal relationships; we see this manifest itself in the workplace often as sexual harassment; and recently we’ve seen many of these circumstances in the public domain across multiple professions - these behaviours are simply unacceptable.
There is more we can do to support women inside and outside the justice system. Our team, as does government as a whole, see ourselves as part of the change. We need to set an example and we need to lead. Our programs must be compassionate, responsive, and effective. We have heard clearly from women and support groups that we need to provide better supports for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the criminal justice system.
The welfare of families is a priority for me and is also central to another departmental priority. We continue to make key investments in the Maintenance Enforcement Program a priority of government. The program is collecting and paying about $232,000 per day to families in both child and spousal support, but the amount owing is still much too high. That’s about $64 million outstanding. A large chunk of that, $15 million, is unenforceable. This is a long-term objective and it will take time to get the numbers where we want them, but we continue to be in the corner of women and children who are overwhelmingly the recipients of these court-ordered payments.
The good news is arrears on active cases have decreased and stands at $48.6 million, down from $50.2 million at the end of March, 2017. This is the lowest level in four years. Fewer cases are in arrears – 5,517 active cases are in arrears today. That’s down from 6,186 in March of 2017. That’s an 11 per cent decrease in active-case arrears.
Enforcement actions are up by 19 per cent over 2016-17; driver’s licence suspensions were 686 for 2017-18, up from 381 in 2016-17; and payers in persistent arrears are being denied passports and other federal licences in greater numbers, up 140 per cent over last year. There are more than 15,000 Nova Scotia children who depend on court-ordered child support payments being made in full and on time. Making sure we are doing all we can to support them is why we are taking the steps we are taking to strengthen enforcement. We are committed to better enforcement, better customer service, and improved communications with families who rely on this program.
We’ve been working hard to improve. In this budget, we will be investing $1.3 million in operation and capital improvements to increase online and IT accessibility for clients. This will improve online services for clients so they can receive and make payments more easily. We have made major improvements over the last few years, including increased enforcement and better services to families through strengthened legislation.
Addressing domestic violence is another high priority of government. Last week, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education announced special leave protections for survivors of domestic violence, and the week before that the Department of Justice and our justice partners and community expanded the Domestic Violence Court Program in Halifax and made the Domestic Violence Court in Sydney permanent. This represents another welcome expansion of our specialty courts, which also include a Court Monitored Drug Treatment Program, Wellness Court, and a Mental Health Court.
The purpose of the court program is not just about keeping families safe, it is also about making our communities safer. The traditional court process and the adversarial approach to justice can present challenges to early intervention and support for survivors.
An important focus for this court program will be supporting services of domestic violence right away. Our message is clear - violence cannot and will not be tolerated. None of us can do it alone, we must all be involved in the operation and outcomes of these objectives.
I might add this project was made possible because of the high degree of collaboration between government, the judiciary, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, the Public Prosecution Service, and more than 25 community agencies. If not for them, this court program would not have been a reality.
As Wendy Keen, Executive Director of New Start men’s intervention program told the CBC last week, this is the best example of collaboration between government and community in all her years as a social worker.
The province has set support for victims of sexual assault as a high priority as well. Last Fall, I, and our federal partners, announced the free Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors program. It will provide survivors with a voice. The project will provide victims with up to four hours of free legal advice. The program is only four months old, and to date more than 40 individuals are enrolled in the program.
We know most sexual assault cases do not get reported. This pilot program will provide victims with the advice they need to make informed decisions about how they want to move forward. Providing better support for victims and survivors of sexual assault is a priority for our government and links with the province’s Sexual Violence Strategy.
The Public Prosecution Service has hired two sexual assault special Crown prosecutors who will mentor and train other Crowns as well as handle sexual assault court cases. We are also ensuring that all our municipal police forces have the resources they need to adequately investigate sexual assault cases. Audits of local police services’ ability to investigate sexual assaults began in late September and have completed their work. We are now awaiting a report of their findings. Also, part of the important work we are doing is ensuring that female offenders are treated well and with dignity. We are pleased to help the Elizabeth Fry in Halifax, in discussions with my colleague for Dartmouth South with bridge funding to support Holly House.
Our Correctional Services Division is also working with the Elizabeth Fry Cape Breton to provide funding to help offenders integrate successfully into the community. Elizabeth Fry Cape Breton will provide assessment, support, and facilitation of release plans through the Correctional Services Conditional Release Program at their halfway house at a cost of $100 per day. This opportunity to partner on this initiative will support the successful reintegration of female offenders, including Indigenous female offenders, to their home communities in Cape Breton.
Government also remains a committed partner to the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Family Information Liaison Unit continues to provide support for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls throughout Nova Scotia.
We are also making changes from the inside. Our justice system must be representative of the people it services. We must hire, promote and advance more women - most especially African Nova Scotian and Aboriginal women - and we are doing just that. We are currently working on our diversity strategy for appointments to agencies, boards and commissions. Reflecting the diversity of our communities we serve is a major theme of our government.
Last year we achieved a major milestone in judicial appointments, appointing three African Nova Scotians to the bench: Ronda van der Hoek, Rickola Brinton, and Sam Moreau; and the province’s first female Mi’kmaq judge, Catherine Benton. In November, we reached gender parity on the Provincial Court and Family Court bench with the appointment of Ann Marie Simmons - 18 of the province’s full-time Provincial and Family Court judges are now women.
We are also focused on recruiting more African Nova Scotian, Mi’kmaq and other diverse groups into positions with the Department of Justice. Diversity and inclusiveness on our public boards mean better decisions for Nova Scotians. We all want to see ourselves reflected on our decision-making bodies; it inspires confidence and public trust in our justice system.
The Department of Justice is taking steps to make sure we have strong representation from diverse communities on all its agencies, boards and commissions. This too is a long-term project.
Madam Chairman, apart from our core responsibilities, the Department of Justice is also playing the lead role in the legalization of cannabis. This represents a significant policy change for Nova Scotia, for all provinces and territories. Today, the possession and selling of non-medical cannabis is a criminal offence. Four or five months from now, cannabis will be legal. The legalization of this product will have impacts on policing, health care, business, and the economy. We will be ready when the federal legislation comes into effect this summer.
Today, we introduced the Cannabis Control Act and amendments to seven other pieces of legislation including the Smoke-free Places Act. Last week, we announced our rules around public consumption and, as all Nova Scotians know, we’ve established the age of consumption at 19, in line with the drinking age of the province and other provinces and territories, and consistent with the social objectives around the retail of alcohol.
The public interest in how government is addressing this issue is understandably high. Nova Scotians want to be confident that the decisions we are making will keep them and their children safe, keep our highways safe, and that the retail model in place will balance public safety with reasonable access. They also want to be well informed around safe use and consumption as well as inherent legal requirements. Nova Scotians, the business community, municipalities, and police, want to be sure the regulatory framework will prioritize health and safety of Nova Scotians, especially children and youth. They want to understand what all this means and I understand that.
Education and public awareness will be a big part of the work we have ahead of us and I look forward to rolling out a campaign over the coming weeks and months so every Nova Scotian is informed. This committee, I know, has many questions as well and I look forward to answering them and addressing some of the myths, as well as laying out the rationale for our decisions on this important issue.
But first, Madam Chairman, I will take a few moments to touch on some of the department’s budget highlights for 2018-19. Our budget is focused on ensuring our team at the Department of Justice responds to our mandate. The budget for the department this year is $354,581,000 and it represents an increase of $13.9 million, or 4 per cent over last year. I’ve already mentioned our increased investment in the Maintenance Enforcement Program. We’re also investing $1.6 million to maintain the Additional Officer Program formerly known as Boots on the Street. This will keep 132 additional officers policing in communities and keep them safe. We also had significant increases for the RCMP for salary and operating costs of $2.7 million, as well as wage adjustments of $2.7 million for the Nova Scotia Government employees and non-union civil service employees.
Other important investments include a funding increase of $900,000 for legal aid in the province, plus an additional $400,000 to Nova Scotia Legal Aid to support African Nova Scotians in North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook, Lincolnville, and Sunnyville, to get clear title to their land; $800,000 for modernizing legal services and adding six FTEs to the division; $800,000 for the Medical Examiner’s Office, part of which will fund an additional forensic pathologist to maintain the high-quality service from that office; and $600,000 for more First Nation policing.
Over the next few minutes, I want to share with you some of our good news stories. We are a department that is using our resources to create positive change in the justice system and in our communities. We continue to take a leadership role in cyberbullying. We introduced and passed the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act in December and we remain the only province to have cyberbullying legislation. The rest of the country is watching closely. Later this Spring, we will proclaim it into law. This legislation will help protect victims and we believe it strikes the right balance between freedom of expression and public safety.
We are also working hard to ensure we have a more accessible province, where all persons can participate fully in society. Building a barrier-free Nova Scotia is a major undertaking. Our department is leading this and it is a big transformative project and it will take everyone to make it work. Making Nova Scotia accessible to every Nova Scotian by 2030 is ambitious, but it’s doable and the optimism is high.
Earlier this year, we announced a diverse group of 12 Nova Scotians to the province’s first Accessibility Advisory Board which is chaired by Doug Foster of Sydney River. One of the board’s first tasks will be to develop and recommend an accessibility and implementation plan which will detail how Nova Scotia will achieve accessibility over the next 12 years. This plan is expected to be completed in the Fall of 2018. The board will also advise government on the development of accessibility standards. Proclaiming the Accessibility Act last September started the countdown on some important timelines. With the Accessibility Directorate in place and fully staffed, and with the advisory board’s guidance, we are well under way with the work to identify, remove, and prevent barriers and address accessibility issues within government policies and practices.
Gerry Post and his team at the directorate have done important work over the past year helping to facilitate the ACCESS-Ability Grant Program for small businesses and helping move along the TCA projects that will make courthouses more accessible.
Another major step for our department, as I highlighted the last time I was here, is the development of the province’s first Aboriginal Justice Strategy. It is part of our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action. Indigenous adults represent just 4 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia, yet 11 per cent of people in custody. Addressing Indigenous justice issues is a priority for me personally, but also to the government.
Our Aboriginal Justice Strategy is being developed with the help of stakeholders. It will focus on three main areas: the hiring and recruitment of more Indigenous employees, a full class of Indigenous correctional officers was hired this Fall; targeted recruitment of front-line staff and managers is also under way; and a scholarship with Nova Scotia Community College for Indigenous and African Nova Scotian students.
Secondly, we are also making sure that all Department of Justice employees have cultural competency training. This is being expanded to Sheriff Services, courts and the Public Prosecution Service after a successful rollout to corrections staff.
Our third focus is on programming that is responsive to the cultural needs of clients and employees. For example, an Aboriginal healing centre is a key part of the design phase for the new Cape Breton jail; smudges and sweat lodges are now available in our correctional facilities; expanded interpreter training in Mi’kmaq and other languages in our courts; and the Red Road cultural sharing cycle provided at the Nova Scotia Youth Centre are just a few examples.
The goal is simple: reduce overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system and enhance support for those who are.
One of the most exciting initiatives planned for this year will be the opening of the new Wellness and Gladue Court at Wagmatcook, which will also provide Provincial Court services for the wider community. Their first cases will be heard tomorrow. The official grand opening is scheduled for June 21st on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and I invite all my colleagues to join us. This is expected to be a major event in the community and we are expecting close to 400 people in attendance. This is something exciting and outside the box of what we would consider a traditional justice system.
As I mentioned to this committee in the Fall, it will be the first of its kind in Nova Scotia and one of just a few in the country. This court will be symbolic of what we can achieve if we engage each other, if we listen to each other and collaborate. It is an important step forward in improving access to justice for people and provides a response that is culturally respectful of the communities it serves.
We are also implementing a formal mentorship program in partnership with the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaq Initiative at Schulich School of Law that will allow for four law students to be mentored at the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice staff is working with federal and community partners to finalize agreements to support the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network’s Court Worker Program and Customary Law Program. The agreement for the Indigenous Court Work Program funding is based on a 50/50 cost share basis with the federal and provincial governments. The proposed agreement is for a five-year term and covers the period April 1st this year to March 31, 2023, for a total funding of $2,106,000 across the five years of the agreement. The customary law program agreement is for a period of three years between 2018 and 2021. The federal contribution to this agreement is $253,000 and the provincial contribution is $110,000 - amounting to just over $1 million across three years of the agreement. This is the first long-term tripartite agreement for the Customary Law Program to date.
Madam Chairman, I would just say a few words about the Public Prosecution Service. The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service represents the Crown in all criminal proceedings and was the first independent prosecution service in Canada. It employs 103 Crown Attorneys and has a total staff of 176 in 18 offices across the province.
Our Crowns handle about 40,000 Criminal Code charges every year. In addition to prosecuting all Criminal Code offences in Nova Scotia, the Public Prosecution Service is responsible for prosecuting some 10,000 violations of provincial Statutes annually.
The Public Prosecution Service also appeals decisions made by the courts in indictable proceedings where the Crown determines the court has made an error in law. Continuing education is a priority for this service. It is important that Crown Attorneys and support staff enhance their expertise on an ongoing basis - at the end of the day this results in better quality prosecution services.
I would also like to talk for a few moments about the challenges that the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service is facing. Major cases are complex and often high profile and require a significant amount of time - time, skill and dedication from more than one Crown Attorney. 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 homicide case, at least one being a senior Crown Attorney. This is essential to professionally respond to the demands of these difficult cases. Many major or specialized prosecutions are handled by members of the service’s Special Prosecutions section. Such prosecutions include complex fraud cases, historical sexual assaults, cybercrime cases, child pornography cases, provincial regulatory offences, and Aboriginal law cases.
Prosecution services across Canada are striving to improve how they respond to the societal problem of sexual violence. To this end the PPS has adapted an enhanced prosecution model with two dedicated Crown Attorneys who will, as I mentioned earlier, focus on sexual assault prosecutions and provide specialized training to other Crown Attorneys. One of the most important goals of the Public Prosecution Service is to be reflective of the community it serves. The service is making significant progress in diversifying its workforce. In addition, policy is under development to respond to the specific needs of our Indigenous population, many of whom feel disadvantaged by the current system.
Budget 2018-19 provides for an increase of $571,000 over last year, for a total budget of $24,351,000. This is the third year in a row that the Public Prosecution Service budget has increased. Resources being made available to the Public Prosecution Service support a four-person intake team operating in the Dartmouth Provincial Court. This team is having a positive impact with cases being resolved by way of a guilty plea at an earlier stage, and those cases requiring additional police investigations being identified earlier, thereby improving the quality of prosecution files.
The Public Prosecution Service is a member of the Criminal Justice Transformation Group, a committee representing justice partners working together to maximize efficiencies within the justice system. The Public Prosecution Service continues to spearhead the province-wide e-disclosure initiative to facilitate the Crown’s ability to receive uniform electronic disclosures from police. I want you to know, Madam Chairman, that progress has been made and I’m pleased to say electronic file transfer of disclosures is becoming a reality province-wide.
SCOPE, a comprehensive case management system developed in Ontario, was acquired by the Public Prosecution Service for testing to determine its compatibility with current computer programs within the justice system. If successful, this will achieve long-needed case management for the Public Prosecution Service. I very much appreciate the efforts of the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service and I’m confident they are well-positioned to meet any challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.
Before I close, Madam Chairman, I want to share some of the important work being done in Nova Scotia by both government and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Nova Scotia has a great story to tell, building a more inclusive province, one that respects the rights of every Nova Scotia is very personal for me.
I was fortunate in two tours of duty in conflict abroad, the first in Haiti and the second in Kosovo. I have seen the worst of human rights abuse, the brutalities of dictatorship as well as ethnic war and ethnic cleansing are etched in my mind. I am able to use these experiences, Madam Chairman, to advantage. These experiences and my 32 years as a law enforcement officer in Nova Scotia have opened by eyes. I’ve worked in many communities, many of them marginalized and I’ve seen proud communities hobbled by systemic and economic racism. Sidelining a community from the social and economic life of our province and country is just not acceptable, it undermines our whole society.
We all know we need to do better but I can tell you, Madam Chairman, there is a level of excitement in Nova Scotia in advancing human rights. We are working hard to rebuild trust and strengthen our relationships with both the African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities. Nova Scotia, not unlike many other provinces, Madam Chairman, has episodes from our past and even present that we’re not proud of, but we are taking deliberate and positive steps forward. In many areas Nova Scotia is showing leadership, such as expanding restorative justice and accessibility.
I touched earlier on land titles clarification, Aboriginal justice, appointments to the bench and our commitment to the calls to action, but there is much more in the areas of human rights. I must congratulate the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for 50 years of protecting the rights of Nova Scotians. Under our present CEO, Christine Hanson, the commission has had a number of noteworthy successes. It is quickly becoming a leader in innovative approaches, recognized across the country and, quite frankly, globally, where the Human Rights Commission was invited to attend the recent UN session to explain and present the Nova Scotia Land Titles Clarification Act.
The Human Rights Commission’s online education on racial profiling has helped businesses address consumer racial profiling. Launched just over a year ago, it has trained more than 8,000 Nova Scotian front-line staff. The model, Madam Chairman, is now being used nationally, in partnership with the Retail Council of Canada.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is also taking a lead role in addressing the issue of street checks. Like Toronto, street checks are a concern here in Halifax. African Nova Scotians are three times more likely to be stopped than other residents, according to police statistics. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is working with Dr. Scot Wortley from the University of Toronto to review the practice, analyze the data, and come up with solutions.
The commission is also successfully using restorative approaches to successfully resolve human rights complaints before they go to the board of inquiry. I applaud the commission for launching online resources to help employers address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. This was an initiative taken as a result of the recent public discourse we see and hear.
The commission is responding to the growing demand for advice and training in workplaces across the province. As a result, their Safe Spaces Make Great Workplaces campaign includes a free online course for employers and their employees and a template for sexual harassment policy that organizations can adapt. The Human Rights Commission will continue to work with them, Madam Chairman, to ensure that that template is adapted to their needs.
This is a serious issue. As we know, 43 per cent of women in Canada have experienced sexual harassment. A recent report indicates that just under half of women in Nova Scotia have experienced sexual harassment, and that’s why it is vital that the Human Rights Commission is taking action. Nova Scotia is making progress, Madam Chairman. We celebrate our successes when we can, but we know there is much more work to do. Nova Scotia will elevate the work we are doing and help play a role in contributing to that progress nationally.
I had the opportunity, Madam Chairman, to attend the Federal-Provincial- Territorial Human Rights meetings in Ottawa the first week in December and I can tell you those provinces, my colleagues from provinces and territories and at the federal level are watching what is happening in Nova Scotia. Our Human Rights Commission and the leadership of the people in place are leading by example.
Madam Chairman, before I conclude my remarks I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere appreciation to the team in the Department of Justice, about 1,700 employees across the province, for their commitment to the people of Nova Scotia. Many of them are on the front line dealing with very challenging circumstances and situations every day. I believe Nova Scotians can be extremely proud of the work that the justice team does on their behalf. They accomplish great things every day; they quietly go about their work, keeping our province safe and secure.
I look forward to the opportunity to respond to questions from my colleagues and I will do my best to answer. In the absence of my ability to answer, I commit that I will get you the information you are looking for and will endeavour to secure those answers in detail on your behalf.
With those comments, Madam Chairman, I welcome questions from my colleagues.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: First of all, I would like to thank the minister for his comments, in particular towards the end, of sharing some personal experiences. I certainly was aware of the minister’s past profession but not in-depth, so I’d like to thank him for sharing those - as well, his department. I think it’s fair to say that the minister has done a terrific job; he really has. I say that endearingly and sometimes that doesn’t come across perhaps when we’re in Question Period. If I had my way, I would actually change the whole system here.
I am going to start right off with something that is fresh to us all today, cannabis. In some of the comments I heard the minister indicate that it will become legalized perhaps in three to four months. It’s the four months that caught my ear. Is that perhaps because of my indication today during Question Period that I’m hearing from Ottawa that it may be delayed, the July 1st date? I’m just wondering, was that just three to four months in a general sense or is it because maybe the minister knows something that might be coming down federally?
MR. FUREY: No, I allude to the three or four months recognizing that there are circumstances in Ottawa that the Senate has identified. My understanding is there is an agreed date for a vote in June, that’s public information. The three to four months is a general period that we’re looking at. I want to assure my colleague I’m not aware of any decisions at the Ottawa level.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m just curious with regard to - I believe there are three producers that have secured their permits, licences, federally to grow cannabis and then sell. I’m just wondering if the minister can confirm how many producers actually have that permit, from Health Canada I believe, if he could first confirm that, please.
MR. FUREY: My colleague is correct. I, as well, understand there are three facilities that have approval for production. None of those three have approval to sell; that is the final stage of the process. There are a number of other corporate entities in that production approval process - somewhere in the area of six to nine additional corporate entities.
MS. MACFARLANE: I did have an opportunity to speak to some of those individuals who are involved with these companies. They have some really great business cases developed and they are moving forward. One of the concerns coming from them is that they understand they will be up and running, as the minister indicated, to sell and that’s wonderful. However, if everything goes as planned, July 1st comes, we have nine outlets in Nova Scotia that will be equipped to sell cannabis.
However, my understanding is that those contracts through the NSLC or through the Department of Justice - I’m not even sure which one - will not be any of these Nova Scotia companies. They are worried that these companies that are going to sell to NSLC are going to have three five-year contracts in place and that they are not actually going to get a piece of - for lack of a better word - a piece of the pie in their own province. I just wonder if the minister can clarify some of those questions.
MR. FUREY: Certainly the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation has engaged all of the producers in the Province of Nova Scotia, not just the three that have approval to grow. My understanding is they had very productive discussions around supply. This is all based on Health Canada’s approval of licences to sell, so production licences for additional facilities and a licence to sell for any of those who have production licences.
With the timelines that are in place, it has been communicated that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation - actually, those producers who have approval licence to produce will not be in a position to provide product to the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, so the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will be required to source their product, in the first instance, from outside the province.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for his answer and, again, I probably didn’t articulate. Will these contracts that are being signed with businesses outside the province, to ensure that they do have the product, I guess, is this something where you just call up and order this month and then you can go to another company for the next month, or is NSLC going to have actual contracts in place - like over three years, five years - that would not enable our local companies to get a piece of the pie? Is that making sense?
MR. FUREY: Those are very fair points to identify. The present circumstances will not facilitate a local producer’s ability to sell in the first instance.
My understanding is that the contractual obligations would be staggered to give Nova Scotia producers with licences to sell an opportunity to provide product within Nova Scotia, but the other element to this will be the national demand and the ability of Nova Scotia producers to provide product out-of-province.
Although there is no procurement rule that specifically identifies a need to purchase Nova Scotia products, because we are conscious of the reciprocal effects of such a policy, we want to ensure that Nova Scotia producers have an opportunity to contribute to the demand and the product needs in the province, but we also want to see them be able to contribute and provide product out of province.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you. That definitely clarifies a bit more. I agree, and I know some of these companies actually have been going elsewhere across Canada to secure future sales, which is fabulous; I do believe in that.
This is coming upon us pretty quickly and I am wondering if the minister can tell me what companies we are securing the product from elsewhere in Canada.
MR. FUREY: As I understand it, when I met with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation leadership last week, they have engaged in discussions with other producers and are in the process of extending an offer of interest - I believe they call it an OFI. There have been no signed contracts at this point, but there have been, what I would call “extensive discussions” around the ability to provide product to the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for his answer. I feel like I am always belabouring this, but this is one part of this legalization that does upset me and it is the age. I think that, to be honest, and I can stand in my place here and I will say, all of Canada should be ashamed of themselves for putting the age at 18 or 19.
When you have Chief Medical Officers across Canada coming together and saying that we all are aware that the frontal lobe is not completely developed until we are 25, and we all know that they compromised and decided that 21 would be the safest - our neighbour beside us, the United States, we know the drinking age there is 21 - I am discouraged by this. Again, I feel like I am always belabouring it, but I need to understand better how we ever came to the final decision to make it 19. What experts did you speak to who convinced you to make it 19 and rule out the advice given by all the Chief Medical Officers, Doctors Nova Scotia - the list could go on and on?
MR. FUREY: I realize my colleague is very attentive to the age and the question she poses is reasonable. There were a number of factors that went into the decision of where we landed on age. You’ve heard some of those - alignment with our legal drinking age, alignment with neighbouring provinces. Yes, we’ve heard from the medical community.
The challenge we face in the legalization of cannabis specific to age, and this hasn’t had a lot of discussion yet and it really comes down to the availability of a quality product. That may seem a little ironic but the present product available to our youth - I mentioned earlier in Question Period today, Nova Scotia has the highest consumption per capita amongst our youth under 34 years of age I think, 35 - that concerns me because whether we legalize cannabis or not, that population will continue to consume.
I’ve seen this over a previous career and see the significant incidence of consumption. I’ll create a hypothetical situation for the benefit of my colleague because my colleague would know the Canadian Medical Association actually recommended an age of 25. But if we were to apply an age of 25, recognizing we have the highest per capita consumption amongst our youth, we know that each and every one of those individuals under the age of 25 will continue to consume. I firmly believe, because I can tell you stories about the illicit market, and let me share one with you because I think it will help my colleague understand. I remember a particular undercover operation. We were in the woods, had identified a grow op of about 750 plants. They bordered a pasture and were hidden in the treeline of the pasture.
In one area adjacent to the pasture was a clump of 30 plants – I would call it a “preferred nursery.” As we were doing surveillance on those individuals who were tending to the property, we saw, onsite, significant amounts of herbicides and pesticides. We watched these individuals mix these products and fertilize these plants for human consumption. These were Marquis plants, there would have been a crossbreed three feet high and literally three feet wide, oozing with bud and the liquid with high THC content. That is what is being provided through the illicit market. Whether they are 25, 21, 19, or 15 or 12, that’s what consumers are presently buying and consuming.
The legal age of 19 is intended to provide and transition the market to a substance that is controlled and approved through the Department of Health and Wellness, retailed through a recognized, established, competent, credible agency that will actually protect youth in the consumption of cannabis. The other element to that is of course the education and awareness element that is going to become a critical part of the overall strategy around legalization of cannabis.
I do want to go back to my colleague’s primary question. There was no one factor that we landed on and said this is why 19. This has been a measured response to a number of factors from a number of sources who had varying opinions on the age itself, and 19 was that measured age that we believe best provides us the opportunity to balance public health, public safety, recognizing that there are harmful effects associated to the consumption of cannabis.
The education awareness element will help educate those 19 and above, but to questions posed in Question Period today, we still have a responsibility to educate those younger than 19 - because I’ve seen it and I’m not naïve to know - I’ve seen children as young as 12 years consume cannabis, provided by others. So, we’ve put legislation in place that will hopefully have a deterring effect on those who supply to youth. It has really been a balanced approach, a measured approach, to what we believe will best address our priority around maintaining and enhancing public safety.
MS. MACFARLANE: We know in the last session - certainly it was no secret - how disappointed I was with regard to the format laid out with the online survey. I was just appalled by it because I literally stated my son could put that online survey together within half an hour. I was disappointed that it would at the end of the day not produce real, reliable, honest data. I know for certain - and I’m not proud to stand here and say it - I know for certain my son and his friends went on there 100 times or more each.
I guess what I want to know is, the minister’s department, at the end of the day, do they still believe that online survey was worthy and, if so, how much of an impact did that online survey contribute to the decision of making the age 19?
MR. FUREY: I want to thank my colleague for the question because these are important elements that I think the public is aware of. The survey was one element in the decision-making process - I know my colleague appreciates that. In addition to the survey itself, there were a number of other meetings with stakeholders that took place - 194 stakeholders, 49 different organizations and 41 different municipalities participated in that and provided that feedback.
The survey that was completed - the methodology of that survey is consistent with what other provinces do. The point that my colleague has mentioned in the previous session and again today around the ability to complete the survey multiple times, that’s recognized within the formula. I don’t understand or pretend to be the subject matter expert on surveys, but there is always a margin of error. It is those factors that are incorporated into a margin of error.
The one element that gives me confidence - and I know I’ve shared this with my colleague in the past and I think in response to questions in Question Period in the previous session - around 37,000 unique users who actually went onto the site - 31,000 surveys completed. My understanding is that lends credibility to the outcomes of the survey.
If the unique users were less than the number of surveys completed, it would support the position that my colleague is advancing in that multiple completions of the survey could skew the results. So, we take confidence in the fact that the unique users of 37,000 exceeding the surveys completed of 31,000 actually lend credibility to the survey itself - recognizing that every survey done across the country has a margin of error.
MS. MACFARLANE: I understand and appreciate the minister’s answer. I logged on to the survey and I guess it was just hard to believe that such a serious issue going forward that affects all of us, but in particular the health and well-being of our youth, is that you could log on and one of the first questions was, are you over 18? If you put no, it didn’t stop. All you had to do was go back out and start again and put 19.
So, I just hope that all consideration will be given for anything going forward with that company that was hired to design that online survey. I really don’t feel that it was as secure as it should be for such an important matter. On that note, I will leave that.
I do want to stay on the topic, but I am curious to know, what type of actual training are the employees at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation going to receive?
MR. FUREY: I don’t know the specifics of the training that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will advance, specific to cannabis. What I do know - and as I indicated earlier, I met with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation last week - is that they have a pretty significant social responsibility strategy that incorporates extensive training in the retail of alcohol. They will apply that same methodology around training to the retail of cannabis.
The layout, as presented, was actually quite impressive as to the strength of their social responsibility strategy internally, as we speak, relative to all of their products, and how they will look at cannabis as simply an additional product and apply the same social responsibility strategies to the retail of that product.
I don’t know the specifics of the training other than you see in that environment the knowledge and the skills of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation employees as they greet you and as they engage you in dialogue. I’ve watched them challenge young people and demand IDs. I have then seen them take customers to a particular shelf and explain a particular product to them. It is that type of training and service that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will apply to the retail of cannabis.
MS. MACFARLANE: I agree that the employees that work at the various NSLCs in our province are very dedicated to their jobs, and are definitely knowledgeable about the product, however, cannabis is taking it to a new level. It’s a product that many employees really don’t want to have anything to do with. I am just wondering that if they indicate that they are really against selling it, handling it, will they be forced to participate in selling it?
MR. FUREY: Another great question in the interest of those who are employed within the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation. I have had this very discussion with the leadership at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, and I have engaged the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union on this very discussion.
Originally, there were questions around the expectations of retailing cannabis. My understanding is that there is actually a level of excitement within the employee workforce around the opportunities that exist, but I would also say there is flexibility within the workforce, should these circumstances that my colleague has identified arise. That is the discussion that I’ve had with both the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation and the president of the NSGEU.
MS. MACFARLANE: How will the employees determine if perhaps - it’s somewhat easy or I find it easy to determine if someone is intoxicated, but how will an employee know that they are under the influence of cannabis?
MR. FUREY: The fundamental principle of that question is really embedded in the social responsibility strategy of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation. Employees are trained to recognize levels of impairment specific to alcohol, and decline service to an individual who attends a Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation facility under the influence, and an employee has the ability and the right to decline them service. This would be incorporated into the training that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation employees would experience in preparation and leading up to the legal retail of cannabis through the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation facilities.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m not aware of this - this truly is a question that I’m not familiar with. Is there a legal liability right now attached to an NSLC employee who would be selling alcoholic beverages to someone who is drunk, and wasn’t aware that they made a wrong judgment? Will there be any type of similar liability if they are influenced by cannabis, and they sell to them and they go down the road and they get in a car accident and they kill someone or they kill themselves? What are the liabilities around this?
MR. FUREY: I can’t speak to the liability. I think that’s really a legal question. What applies to the retail of alcohol now would apply to the retail of cannabis. It’s important to identify that the sale of alcohol or cannabis to somebody who is impaired by alcohol or cannabis is an offence within the bill, and within the legislation, and will be a deterrent for those who may choose that option.
To my colleague’s question, I think the training will address the ability of employees to identify and recognize the symptoms of impairment by drug the same as they do by alcohol, and I would only conclude that whatever legal lens or position is placed on the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation now, specific to liability in the sale of alcohol and a subsequent accident or collision, would apply to the sale of cannabis. To my understanding, I don’t recall any civil matters that have identified Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation in the retail of alcohol to be responsible civilly for subsequent events.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you. So, there would be no penalty then - I want to confirm that if I were an employee at NSLC, and I mistakenly sold alcohol or sold cannabis to someone that was under the influence of either one of those products, they actually go down the road, and they get in an accident - maybe I’m wrong here, but I always understood if I allowed someone to leave my house driving intoxicated, that I’m actually liable. So, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Is the actual employee going to be liable, or do they have some kind of insurance on their behalf that protects them?
MR. FUREY: I’m just trying to recall, because there has been case law established relative to the circumstances that my colleague identifies, and my recollection is that the case law does not hold a homeowner or a facility owner - so a drinking establishment - liable.
But to the point of my colleague’s question, there would be indemnifications for employees who are employed and working in good faith, that would absolve them of any civil responsibility. That is my understanding.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for his answer. That seems to make sense to me. The THC levels - there are hundreds and hundreds - I’m just wondering what strains of THC levels are going to initially be sold in the nine outlets.
MR. FUREY: My colleague may recall, I believe last week or the week before, the federal government actually announced packaging where they require the level of THC to be identified on the label, but I believe those regulations are yet to be determined as to the concentration of THC in a particular product. That will be a federal government responsibility.
MS. MACFARLANE: I understand that in these nine locations there are actual separate rooms being made that will hold the cannabis product. I’m curious to know if it’s behind closed doors - I would like that confirmed. I’m also wondering if there is only one employee - I have received some concerns that there may be only one employee behind that closed door. I just want to know if we can have confirmation on that.
MR. FUREY: There would never be a situation where there would be a single employee. Some of the discussions that we’ve had with Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation recognize the need to engage the customer, to help the customer make decisions around THC content - cannabinoid content, other elements. There would be a person at point of sale. There would be a number of employees in that stream of retail that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation plans to implement.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for his answer. I’m getting mixed messages. I heard that the product is actually not going to be displayed - that when you come into that room you can’t actually see the product, that you need to either know what product you want to purchase, or you go in and say to the employee, I’m here because I’m looking to try it for the first time and have a good time, or I’ve been sent in here to purchase it because I have arthritis, and I was told that you could help me and determine what I should be able to use for my pain.
I’m just wondering, is it correct that the actual
product is not visible? Also, whether or not they get samples - that’s the
other question I had.
MR. FUREY: This goes back to my colleague’s original question about a single employee or multiple employees. There will be employees - I would differentiate it this way - in front of the counter and behind the counter. Those in front of the counter would engage customers much like Service Nova Scotia engages customers, and asks them what they’re there for, and what type of product are they looking for, what are the symptoms - these types of discussions. There will be an array of products that the employee will identify that may meet the needs and expectations of the customer.
The customer won’t be able to sample, there will be no samples. There will be an online element to product quality, and some additional information through the engagement of employees at the workplace. Generally, those in front of the counter who will be sharing that information and engaging the client, and the point of sale person will be simply for the purposes of the transaction.
MS. MACFARLANE: I know this may seem like a ridiculous question, but it was asked to me. Often, when you walk into an NSLC, you see adults there with their children. I was asked if a 19-year-old goes in, if their 18-year-old friend can come with them to help them take their product out of the store.
MR. FUREY: It’s a great question, actually, because whether they’re 18 or 8, it is a very relevant question. The co-location - the space within the space, is how I describe it - that space for purposes of cannabis retail, is restricted to those of legal age. So, the 18-year-old would not be permitted to accompany the 19-year-old friend for purposes of selecting a product. An 8-year-old would not be able to accompany their parent into that space within a space for purposes of purchasing cannabis.
MS. MACFARLANE: So, perhaps maybe not so ridiculous. It is quite common, you see people go in with their children. It was asked and I didn’t know the answer, so thank you so much for that.
In the past, we have talked about municipalities, and so many things have been downloaded onto the municipalities now for decades, but there is great concern around the municipalities and the investment that they are going to have to inject into their budget with regard to policing and law enforcement. I’m just wondering if the minister can help me better understand what communication has taken place so far with the municipalities around this, and if there is an investment, or money set aside, to assist them in this transition?
MR. FUREY: As I indicated earlier in Question Period and in comments in response to my colleague earlier around the consultation process, 41 of the 53 municipalities actually participated in the consultation process, so there has been, from the outset, an extensive dialogue with municipalities, and input from municipalities.
I met with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and facilitated a roundtable this past Fall, just before Christmas, and I attended and most of the discussion was actually around cannabis. The UNSM - I spoke about legislation and I spoke about the ability of municipalities to pass additional legislation through municipal bylaws and they were receptive to that.
Much like municipalities today, although there is a provincial Smoke-free Places Act, municipalities have implemented municipal bylaws that further place restrictions on municipalities. My understanding is smoking is prohibited on the main street in Truro, in the Town of Kentville within the town boundaries, and other municipalities that have identified specific areas. The discussion and dialogue I’ve had is they are receptive to that additional authority to place further restrictions on where an individual could consume, and part of our bill is that any enhanced legislation by municipalities would be respected and recognized.
MS. MACFARLANE: A university student sharing a house with six others were all allowed to grow four plants each. Can you confirm?
MR. FUREY: The short answer is no, but let me explain that. The restriction with regard to four plants is specific to households. So, if there are four people living in a house, two parents and two adult children, you are still only permitted to have four plants. The same would apply to a rental, if the rental landlord supported that.
One of the things that we have included in this bill is the ability of landlords to amend a lease, but at the same time, the ability of tenants to opt out of a lease, should they not agree with the landlord. So, if you are presently in a non-smoking building that prohibits the consumption of tobacco, and if a landlord chose to restrict the consumption of cannabis, we have included elements in this bill that will allow landlords to give a tenant four months’ notice.
In reverse, because it was important that we be fair to tenants as well, a tenant would consider that amended lease, and they would have up to a month to entertain what they chose to do - either stay or leave that apartment - and then reciprocate by giving three months’ notice to the landlord to vacate the lease.
What we anticipate is that the largest number of landlords will prohibit cultivation in rental properties and tenants will have the option to opt out if they don’t like that direction, but to my colleague’s initial question, the federal regulations, which we have captured in our bill, is four plants per household.
MS. MACFARLANE: What agency was engaged to create the campaign?
MR. FUREY: If my colleague could be more specific to the campaign.
MS. MACFARLANE: I guess the campaign, or the educational awareness, around education and so on - for advertising, radio, and TV. I’m just wondering how it’s broken down and what the amount is, and if the minister could be more specific as to - is it over one year, two years, and what’s the budget line on all of it?
MR. FUREY: We have not reached that point in securing a proponent to do the marketing, the campaign itself. We’re in the process of pulling that plan together. We may go with an RFP, but to my colleague’s question, we have not yet reached that point.
MS. MACFARLANE: Does that confirm that when it becomes legalized that we will not have an educational component and awareness that will be advertised for our youth?
MR. FUREY: No, there will be an education awareness campaign that rolls out prior to legalization. I captured some of that in a response to a question in Question Period earlier today. My colleague would be aware that the federal government has rolled out two different campaigns focused on youth. There was some concern that that wasn’t seen, but the depth of those two campaigns has reached - I’m seeing numbers in excess of 80 million youth on multiple occasions, through two subsequent campaigns.
I indicated earlier that we know Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada will be rolling out a campaign as well, and we know that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will be rolling out a campaign, and we will be rolling out a campaign.
What we’re very careful of is we don’t want to duplicate and waste those revenues doing something that the federal government has already done, or one of our partners has already done. They are included in the dialogue. They have been part of the discussion around building our plan for education and awareness, but to my colleague’s point, the provincial plan will roll out prior to the legalization. All of these elements will be progressive. The provincial plan will roll out prior to the legalization of cannabis in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just curious, have there been discussions with the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to ensure that there is some type of awareness or any certain grade that is going to happen within the school system?
MR. FUREY: Yes, there has, in fact, been broad discussion - not only with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, but across multiple departments. The committee, struck some time ago, included multiple departments: Service Nova Scotia, Department of Health and Wellness, Municipal Affairs, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. Recognizing that there are elements within each of those departments where there could be collateral impacts or unintended consequences, we wanted to have those discussions prior to these initiatives to ensure that all of those elements are addressed both in the building of the legislation, but also in the building and rollout of the education and awareness campaign.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’m curious to know who is actually delivering the product. I had a private business owner who owns a security company, and is wondering how he can perhaps find out or become the delivery person to this product. I’m just wondering if the minister and his department have established who the actual delivery company is of this product. There has been some indication that there has to be high security with it - so if the minister could elaborate a little bit on that, please.
MR. FUREY: The question my colleague is asking is part of the work that Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation have undertaken and are in the process of completing. I’ve received very similar questions from constituents in the business environment who see opportunity. I’ve directed them to the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation for that discussion, because there could be opportunities for private sector in the wholesale and distribution to support the work that Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation has done.
I don’t know at what stage in confirmation Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is on determining those elements within their business model.
MS. MACFARLANE: With home delivery - it’s an interesting concept - anywhere in Nova Scotia, but I’m thinking for the rural areas. So, you have the delivery individual come to the door, and mom and dad aren’t home, and the 14-year-old son or daughter is there. What actually takes place? Can they actually leave the product in their hands? Is a signature required? What is the process in home delivery?
MR. FUREY: I’ll take a moment just to explain the delivery process for medicinal marijuana because it is anticipated that the delivery process for recreational cannabis will mirror the medicinal marijuana delivery program. A service provider responds to an order. Upon delivery, the service provider confirms the identity and age of the recipient. It doesn’t have to be the purchaser, as long as the individual is of age at the address identified. I anticipate that is the delivery model that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will model in completing and providing that online home delivery service.
MS. MACFARLANE: Earlier this morning, when we had the technical briefing, there was something in it - and forgive me, I cannot quite remember, but it may raise a red flag - with regard to exemption of golf courses. I’m not sure what it really referred to - it has to be so many metres away from public places, but that there would be an amendment made to exempt golf courses. I am wondering what that’s all about.
MR. FUREY: Last week, we shared the consumption elements of the Cannabis Control Act and I spoke about the alignment with the Smoke-free Places Act, wherever possible. Golf courses are presently exempt under the Smoke-free Places Act, and we have provided the same parallel exemption to cannabis to align with the Smoke-free Places Act.
MS. MACFARLANE: So, I’m assuming that a mother or a father or whoever goes golfing with their son or daughter can actually light up a joint and smoke beside them while they are golfing? Is that true?
MR. FUREY: I’m not sure of the answer to my colleague’s question, so I am going to ask our team to explore that a little further, but when I think of the Smoke-free Places Act and, unfortunately, the rare occasions that I get to go to a golf course, I know that golf courses have rules in place.
I ran the junior program at Osprey Ridge for a number of years, and I know there were club rules in place that restricted smoking in the presence of youth, so I think we have to explore this a little further to determine what the specifics are, relative to my colleague’s question. I will commit to get back to her on that question.
MS. MACFARLANE: Well, I realize I only have seconds left, but just to confirm because there is some confusion, too, about the jails. We understand that you cannot smoke at the jails, but then this morning I learned that yes, there are designated areas. Then they got back to me and said, no there aren’t, but federally there are designated areas. I’m just wondering if you can confirm all that for me, please?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative Party.
We will turn it over to the New Democratic Party.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CLAUDIA CHENDER: I want to thank the minister and all the hard-working staff at the department for being here today. I listened with great interest to the minister’s introduction, and I’m aware of and very impressed by the breadth of work that’s going on in the department. I want to personally thank the minister and his staff for the work done to ensure that Holly House, the Elizabeth Fry Society house, which is in my constituency, and with which I am very familiar, was able to remain open, and as the minister said, to have a pilot program that helps women transition out of the cycle of imprisonment in which especially vulnerable women and girls often find themselves – I’m particularly pleased with that item. To begin with, I’m just going to ask a few general questions about the budget.
To start, we saw an increase in FTEs from - if my numbers are correct - 1,630.2 to 1,646.8. We’ve heard about some of those positions in the minister’s introduction, and I’m wondering if the minister could tell us, or table what the other additional FTEs are, and their roles and responsibilities.
MR. FUREY: I can provide the actual numbers for my colleague and I would ask one of the Pages to copy this, and we’ll eventually provide a copy to my colleague.
As I indicated earlier in my comments, six positions to modernize legal services; 2.4 positions for the cannabis legalization and regulation, that 0.4 is really a part-time role; 1.2 FTEs for Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, so, casual employees to cover overtime; two positions for court services to help reduce the delays in criminal trials, the Jordan decision, which my colleague would be familiar with; 1.5 positions for the domestic violence court in Halifax; one position for the implementation of the sheriff services review recommendations; 1.8 positions in the Accessibility Directorate funding; 1.8 positions in adult capacity and decision making; and 0.2 positions, FTEs transferred from the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture.
MS. CHENDER: I wonder if the minister could just tell me what - I’m not familiar, unfortunately, with the shared services review - what that position does and a little bit more about what that is, and what the 1.8 in adult capacity also, what are the roles and responsibilities there?
MR. FUREY: I was a little confused with the terminology. It was Sheriff Services that we spoke about . . .
MS. CHENDER: Sheriff Services. I misheard you.
MR. FUREY: That’s quite all right. That position was for a risk investigator and adult capacity and decision making, the full-time position is a capacity assessor and the 0.8 position is an intake clerk.
MS. CHENDER: The minister spoke a little bit about the increase in the budget for legal services. I’m wondering if there’s any relationship there to the higher volumes of litigation that the government is currently engaged in, if there’s anything more to say about that?
My follow-up question to that is, how outstanding litigation, particularly litigation against the government, is accounted for in this budget? I understand I may need to come back to that with the minister wearing his other hat. But if there is a role for the Department of Justice in that, I’d love to hear about it.
MR. FUREY: The six positions include two junior lawyers, a paralegal, an office manager, a copy clerk, and a data technician. The addition of two additional lawyers is not specific to litigation, it is to address the collective pressures of legal services and recognize, try to model legal services as a significant law firm, and provide the support and management that we would see in a private law firm. So, not specific to litigation, but it certainly includes two lawyers.
MS. CHENDER: I’ll ask again my follow-up question, which is, is outstanding litigation against any government department, is that the purview of or accounted for in any way in this Justice budget, or the Department of Justice as a whole? I mean certainly the work will take place there, but again, I understand if the minister would prefer to answer that question when we discuss labour relations.
MR. FUREY: A response and then a question, because I just want clarity so I’m providing the right response to my colleague. Existing litigations that come into government are managed within Legal Services, and the distribution of those files amongst that litigation team.
The question I have for my own clarity, is my colleague asking if we have budgeted for outcomes of existing litigation in this fiscal? I think that’s what she’s asking. The answer is no, we have not, because we don’t see any of those litigations being resolved within this fiscal year. Any costs associated to those litigations would occur at the time of a decision, and be captured in that specific fiscal year. I think that’s what my colleague is asking.
MS. CHENDER: Yes, that is what I’m asking. I guess to further clarify, is the minister saying that when the fiscal year in which a decision is expected would see a budgetary allotment, or that once a decision was made by a court, the following year would have a budget allocation?
MR. FUREY: That is the case - that there would be no expenditure until a decision is made, and that would be made in the fiscal year. One of the things that happens internal to the department, Legal Services are continuously providing updates that it would accrue at that time, but no expenditure made until the decision is made.
If there is a judgment, it would accrue at that time, but they do monitor the potential liability, but no budget in this fiscal year would be budgeted or addressed in the fiscal year that it occurs.
MS. CHENDER: I apologize for exhausting anyone, but I really am trying to get this clear. So, it sounds to me like what the minister is saying is that it’s unlikely that there would be a budget allocation at all - that the government would wait for the determination of a lawsuit, and if it was not in the government’s favour, they would find the funds, essentially, to pay out.
I guess my question is, if it’s accurate that we would never see that reflected in a budget - that that wouldn’t be part of a planning process - I mean, it may be part of some planning process, but it wouldn’t be part of the budgetary planning process, then where would those funds come from? Where would we see those?
For instance, if there is litigation against the Department of Environment and that litigation is successful, do those funds come out of the budget of the Department of Environment? Do they come out of some other pot? Do they come out of the Department of Justice? How would the public be able to see that?
MR. FUREY: To avoid confusion, I’ll stick to the example that my colleague provided, relative to the Department of Environment. If the liability is the Department of Environment - if the claim is against the Department of Environment, then the Department of Environment would determine if they would book that in that fiscal year.
Whether it’s outstanding litigation or it’s severe weather - and we’ve seen those circumstances arise and not budgeted for - government would have to find the money to pay those costs.
MS. CHENDER: So, moving on, the minister mentioned in his opening comments an increase in the Legal Aid budget - some specifically for the Land Titles Clarification Act efforts - another, I think, $900,000, generally. Although that is a significant number, it’s still relatively small, relative to the Legal Aid budget as a whole. So my question is whether the minister could comment on how demand for legal services has changed over the past five years?
I think the minister has already spoken to the Land Titles Clarification Act, but beyond that, in addition to land titles, we know that Legal Aid will be available to adults who are or could be subject to a representation order, under the Adult Capacity and Decision-making Act - and the minister and I had occasion to discuss that at the last sitting. Families that need a financial means test might also qualify for Legal Aid service, so I am wondering how - are those costs adequately absorbed by this extra allocation, or is there an anticipation that there may be need in excess of that?
MR. FUREY: For the benefit of my colleague, I will just break down where that $1.34 million is being directed. There is a federal recovery increase - money comes in from the feds and it goes out to Legal Aid. There is $433,000 for land titles, there is an inherent wage increase in the amount of $259,000, and a one-year funding to meet operational demands around homicide certificates in the amount of $340,000. That is a 4 per cent increase this year over last, and last year in the 2017-18 budget, there was a $1.16 million increase to the Legal Aid budget.
In addition, there is a movement of smaller amounts of money that are not part of the larger grant - $75,000 to each of the Domestic Violence Courts in Sydney, as well as Halifax, and another $11,000 - just over $11,000 - for the adult capacity work that they have undertaken.
What I do want to share with my colleague is the report card on the criminal justice system that really identifies the Legal Aid expenditures on criminal matters per crime. Again, I will ask one of the Pages to copy this for us. In that ranking by the Canada Justice Group, Nova Scotia Legal Aid is ranked as an A+ and I think that demonstrates the commitment that we are making, compared to our colleagues across the country.
If I can have the Page copy that and provide a copy to my colleague and table a copy as well.
MS. CHENDER: For the Office of the Public Trustee, I believe there’s not much of an increase in budget or FTEs. My understanding is that, again, there are some increased responsibilities under the Adult Capacity and Decision-making Act. Could the minister speak to how those added responsibilities will be absorbed by that office?
MR. FUREY: Again, for the benefit of my colleague, I’ll just break down the costing of the 1.8 positions that I identified earlier. The 0.8 is actually a full-time position that doesn’t start until June. That’s the intake worker, the $65,000 cost of the intake clerk. The second position, the 1.0 position, is a capacity assessor at $99,000. Then there was a one-time setup cost in the amount of $20,000 and operating costs in the amount of $18,000 for a total of $202,000.
What I do want to share with my colleague is that under the old Act, there was an average of 20 to 25 cases per year. What we don’t know is whether that volume will change this fiscal year. It’s something we will monitor, Madam Chairman, and address appropriately if there’s a need for additional resources. But as we speak, those are the allotments that we anticipate, based on old numbers.
MS. CHENDER: Sorry; I did get a bit lost in the numbers, so thank you for repeating those. I guess the only comment I’ll make about that is that the minister and I had the opportunity to have robust discussions in the Fall about the fact that, essentially, these old guardianship agreements were being grandfathered into the new Act. I would certainly hope to see a great increase in cases. All of the people who are subject to that Act now have the ability, and I would say ought to be encouraged, in fact, to come forward and have a new order in place, given that the new Act does differ substantially from the old one. I think it’s a perfectly sensible approach to wait and see. But my hope would be that there would, at least in the short term, be a bump in those cases.
I notice on Page 15.8 that the crime prevention number has gone down significantly. The estimate was $748,000 here, the forecast was $996,000, and then the revised estimate is $478,000 for this year. I’m sure there’s some explanation for that, but I would love to hear the minister’s comments.
MR. FUREY: The difference that my colleague has identified is captured in the reduction of federal funding to the Ceasefire program here in HRM. That’s money that comes in from the federal government to support that program. That no longer exists. As my colleague would know, we have provided bridge funding on two occasions now to allow the program to continue through the discussions that HRM are having around other funding options, funding partners that would allow the program to continue.
MS. CHENDER: That does clarify, although I am curious where we would see that bridge funding reflected in these numbers.
MR. FUREY: I’m just trying to remember. January 1st to March 31st was the first bridge funding. That was captured in 2017-18 fiscal year. Given the circumstances as we saw them unfold, we knew there would be a need for additional bridge funding. The bridge funding from April 1st to July 15th, we were able to advance out of the 2017-18 fiscal year.
MS. CHENDER: That constitutes a great use of end-of-year dollars for my money.
Moving on to corrections, I know that the minister provided a copy of a letter he had sent to myself and my colleague this morning on some issues that we had spoken about during the last session of Budget Estimates, which was not all that long ago. I do have some outstanding questions.
We know that Dalhousie Legal Aid lawyer Claire McNeil has called for stronger independent oversight of corrections in Nova Scotia and has specifically said that the use of solitary confinement, or close confinement, needs to be examined more closely and should be abolished. I know there have been policy changes in this area. Nonetheless, the concern persists. I can table that article. I wonder if the minister can provide an update.
There is some confusion. I had asked the minister about data being collected regarding the use of solitary confinement. The letter from November indicates that comprehensive data was now being collected. That is somewhat at odds with the FOIPOP that we had filed. I think in the letter the minister says that I can just request this information going back to when it began to be compiled, which I guess was a year past this November. I would really appreciate that data, the data on the use of close confinement. In particular, any data with information broken down by race, age, and gender would be very much appreciated.
MR. FUREY: Just a little bit of clarity internally - there was some understanding that the data had gone out. I want to go back to the correspondence that I shared with my colleague this morning or earlier today. We had actually invited my colleague in to review the data. We have that data. Ethnicity goes back to 2017, but we’re now able to share that data with my colleague.
MS. CHENDER: If the minister could just let us know what the best way for us to review that data would be, I would be grateful.
MR. FUREY: That’s a takeaway, and I commit to my colleague that we will get that at the first opportunity. She’s welcome to come in to the office, or we can certainly ensure that it physically gets to her.
MS. CHENDER: I eagerly look forward to seeing those statistics. On the same topic, I wonder if the department is updating any policies. I know that we had some conversation in the Fall about whether or not there was, in fact, a review being done. At first, it seemed as though there was, but then the minister clarified that there was an internal review of programs and procedures, but that it wasn’t a review in such a form that we would then see a report at the end of said review.
I guess I am asking, is there further updating happening as a result of the internal review that was conducted and recent court decisions in Ontario and British Columbia? We know that there is a lot moving on this file. There are a number of outstanding cases. There are a number of reviews.
There certainly seems to be shift in thinking towards the idea that solitary confinement should be used sparingly, if at all. I believe that is the guiding principle that we have enshrined in our laws and policies, but perhaps that’s not necessarily always how the practice is carried out.
I am just wondering if there has been any shift in policy or procedure since last we spoke about this?
MR. FUREY: It is an internal review within the department. We have a lawyer in Legal Services who specializes in procedural fairness in common-law practices who oversaw the redesign of disciplinary close confinement in Correctional Services. We are proceeding with that review, and there have been some policy changes made. What we have seen is a reduction in close confinement - I think the numbers go from 5.4 days to 3.5 days - based on some of the changes that have taken place.
I do want to reference comments that my colleague made earlier about the reduction in the use of close confinement or possibly the elimination of close confinement. One of the things I have communicated to my colleague and spoke about in the last session is that, in some cases, either those individuals placed in close confinement are a threat to themselves, or there is a safety risk for that person in the general population.
I know my colleague is passionate about this particular issue. Those circumstances are, in fact, for the protection of the individual themselves. Although we may disagree on the total elimination, I think our objective is accurate and consistent in that we want to see a reduction, and we are seeing that. What I would do for the benefit of my colleague, as we did following the previous discussion, is outline in a letter - and I’ll make sure she gets it if I have to hand deliver it myself - the basis of her question and capture a little more detail than what I’m able to share at this time through my own recollection and support that our team is providing.
MS. CHENDER: In addition to our concern about the use of close confinement, we have an equal concern with the safety of inmate population and the safety of our correctional officers. We understand that this is not a simple issue. If it was, it wouldn’t be so difficult. These questions just point to the fact that it is, in fact, a thorny challenge. It has a lot of human rights implications, and it’s something that we’re paying attention to. I appreciate the minister’s answers, and I look forward to getting more detail. That would be great.
Moving on, I noted on Page 15.5 that there is a reduction in the budget for Waterville, quite a significant one - the Waterville correctional facility. I’m wondering if the minister can speak to that.
MR. FUREY: The reduction in the budget that my colleague identifies is specific to 7.9 positions. I’ll identify what those positions were and where those positions were transitioned. These were vacant FTEs.
The capacity at Waterville is 120, and the population there is around 21 youth. There were vacant positions because there wasn’t the need to maintain a full complement. Those vacant positions were directed into other areas, so it would have been taken out of the budget of Waterville and applied elsewhere.
I’ll go through those positions for the benefit of my colleague. One was an attendant management coordinator position, and that person would be responsible for overseeing absence management at the facility. Two positions were training officers intended to contribute to the development of employees by providing training and developmental opportunities in that environment. One is an Aboriginal liaison officer. In consultation with our Aboriginal community, there was a desire to see a specific position. One position was moved to special projects, and that was intended to ensure that the recommendations from the AG Report were followed through and implemented. Three positions were to support youth integration services to become more robust in the community, so facilitating re-integration from the facility.
MS. CHENDER: Looking at corrections more generally, I’m wondering if the minister can provide recent data on the number of individuals in provincial facilities on remand. I know that when I had occasion to visit the Burnside facility with the minister, the number was exceptionally high, I think north of 70 per cent. I’m wondering if that has stayed similar or if there are recent statistics.
MR. FUREY: To the point of my colleague’s question, there’s no real change in the percentage of representation. It’s about 68 per cent now. What we have done in our business plan for this year is look at a strategy to reduce that representation in partnership with the Public Prosecution Service and implement that plan going forward. As a result of our discussion last Fall, Corrections has taken this initiative. It’s captured in the business plan, and there is an intention to see those numbers come down.
MS. CHENDER: My follow-up to that is - I’m assuming these numbers exist - what is the general impact of this in regard to the budget? Presumably it’s huge. The costs of incarceration are high. If the minister has access to these numbers, I would love to hear them.
Additionally, are there one or two plans from that business plan that stand out in terms of what will be undertaken to reduce that number? Does that look like people awaiting trial in the community or other plans?
MR. FUREY: There are three elements that I am able to share with my colleague - not that there are elements that I can’t share with my colleague, but three areas of focus. We recognize that these numbers are high and challenging. Most of these are administration of justice matters, breaches and those types of things. We also recognize that a high percentage of those individuals are female and that about 80 per cent of those come from HRM and/or Sydney.
Part of that plan is working with our law enforcement communities, the judiciary, Legal Aid, and the Public Prosecution Service. How do we address the administration of justice matters? Quite honestly, in the absence of violence or revictimization, are there other methods to manage these individuals instead of incarceration?
This is part of the plan, but I think we can capture greater detail, as I indicated earlier, in a similar piece of correspondence to my colleague as follow-up to the dialogue we’re having today.
MS. CHENDER: I look forward to seeing that for sure. Is it still the case that individuals detained by Canada Border Services are also placed in our correctional institutions? If so, does the minister have any information now or that he could share in the future about how many instances there are of this and what the duration of incarceration is for these individuals?
MR. FUREY: Yes, I can provide an update. We continue with that service delivery. As a matter of fact, we just confirmed a contract with Canada Border Services Agency to facilitate that service.
To my colleague’s question about numbers, the general population is about 520. The service provided to Canada Border Services Agency is less than 1 per cent - actually just over a 0.5 per cent. We are looking somewhere in the area of four to five individuals.
MS. CHENDER: Is there any money in this budget to implement or expand programming for individuals incarcerated in provincial institutions? We know that is seen to be lacking by many. I wonder if that is being expanded in any way in this fiscal year.
MR. FUREY: As my colleague would know, there are a number of programs and services being made available within the facilities. They range across a number of areas - substance abuse awareness, intimate partner violence, education, opioids, anger, restorative justice processes for adults - but there is no specific funding increase. I would say more partnerships - I use the example of support to the Elizabeth Fry Society, both in Dartmouth and in Cape Breton, and the partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College that I mentioned earlier. These are the types of initiatives that we’re undertaking.
There are four projects for youth that are being enhanced but no specific budget increases. There is more around partnerships and our ability to find efficiencies and enhance the delivery of these programs.
MS. CHENDER: I want us to circle back to the question I asked earlier about liabilities for outstanding lawsuits. When I asked the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development about potential liabilities related to Bill No. 72, the response given by the minister, and his staff presumably, was that I should ask the Minister of Labour Relations because that was not in the purview of the specific departments and that, in fact, it had been removed from the purview of the minister because the minister could then focus on education.
I just want to clarify your previous response. The example then was Environment, and maybe Environment is different from Education and Early Childhood Development, but I am looking for both. Where does the money come from? Also where does the buck stop, proverbially, in terms of who makes those determinations and in terms of transparency, how the public understands how those things work? Again, I understand the minister is wearing two hats here.
MR. FUREY: As I understand it and as it has been explained to me, it would be the responsibility of the department. If there were costs associated to litigation, they would secure the support of Justice officials responsible for those departments. Ultimately, to your example, if it was Environment, they would have to book that and/or identify the need for revenue to pay the costs.
MS. CHENDER: I’ll let the ministers duke that one out in the back room. Thank you for your response.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I was very happy to see the investment in Elizabeth Fry in that pilot program. I am wondering if the minister could tell me a global amount to fund community-based services for inmates who are released from provincial corrections and whether the minister has access to a breakdown between services for female offenders and male offenders.
To my understanding, there has been consistent funding for community-based supports that support men when they are released from incarceration. My understanding is that there has been substantially less support for women being released from jail. There are, of course, fewer female inmates, but not none. Any information the minister could give me on that would be helpful.
MR. FUREY: To the question my colleague has posed, we don’t break the funding down based on gender. It is broken down based on programs. There would be money committed to domestic violence, there would be money committed to victim services, and there would be money committed to the John Howard Society - that type of breakdown but not specific to gender.
MS. CHENDER: As the minister knows, our caucus has been quite outspoken on the issue of street checks. I have asked the minister about it in this Chamber, and we have had a chance to have conversations about it outside of this Chamber. I just want to ask again in the simplest way possible. I’m not looking to be adversarial, but I understand that the department is awaiting the review of Dr. Wortley.
In advance of that, I would invite the minister to just comment on the thinking behind waiting for that, knowing that while we do want an evidence-based decision, we also have a lot of evidence from communities disproportionately affected by carding or street checks that say it’s very harmful. Is any planning being done in advance of a possible decision or review by Dr. Wortley that indicates that the practice should be stopped? Is the department prepared to act on that recommendation and to act quickly?
MR. FUREY: I do acknowledge I have had discussions with my colleague on this subject. I’m very cautious. This is a very sensitive issue for these communities. I can tell you from my own experience that I’m familiar with the processes and recognize that maybe the circumstances are different in HRM compared to our more rural communities.
I think the work that Dr. Wortley is doing will be absolutely valuable in getting us to a better place. I don’t know if that is the abolition of street checks, if it’s a more stringent monitoring process of street checks, or if it’s a change in policy. We could debate those elements, but in response to my colleague’s question, I look forward to Dr. Wortley’s report. He is the subject matter expert. I’m looking forward to the recommendations that come from that report, and I don’t want to do or say anything that may influence or be perceived to influence the outcome of his work. He’s a recognized subject matter expert.
I believe that there has been significant attention brought to this issue of street checks. I would hope that individuals see the importance of respectful interaction between authority and citizens and appreciate that this is not going away, that there will be work done on this. I look forward to Dr. Wortley’s report and the recommendations that he will have.
MS. CHENDER: I appreciate the minister not wanting to prejudge the outcome of that report. Just in a general way, I’ll restate the question. Are the RCMP and the police forces able to act quickly on the recommendations, whatever they are, if they do propose a change in policy for the way that those forces function, interact with, and specifically collect data from certain communities? Is that something that can be acted upon quickly?
MR. FUREY: I do understand better the question that my colleague was posing based on her follow-up. If I can take you back to your first question, other than general discussion and awareness of the topic, I would be quite honest in sharing with my colleague that there’s no significant planning in place as to what we would do.
But I would say this in response to my colleague’s second question . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has elapsed for the NDP. We will turn it over to the Progressive Conservatives for up to an hour. I call on the member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Should the minister have a break?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You would like to have a break? Okay, we will take a short recess.
[5:40 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[5:44 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. I call on the member for Pictou West.
MS. MACFARLANE: I would like to finish off the last hour that I had an opportunity to question the minister. We didn’t quite get an answer. Perhaps I didn’t hear it because we ran out of time. There is some confusion.
It was my understanding - today during the technical briefing, it was stated that there are designated smoking areas at the jails. I didn’t think there were. Then we did receive a notice later on today indicating that there aren’t, but there is confusion about federal facilities. Knowing that we do have a federal facility in Springhill, and since the Tobacco Act is pretty much modelling what’s going to happen with cannabis, I’m just wondering if they will be able to use the cannabis product at the federal facility.
MR. FUREY: The restrictions in the Nova Scotia correctional facilities are no smoking. That would apply to cannabis as well. I don’t know what the circumstances are in the federal institution in Springhill.
What I do know is that I have no authority over the federal institution in Springhill. It would be a federal responsibility. That’s no different from medicinal marijuana: I have no control or say in the medicinal marijuana discussion. Our focus in the legislation is specific to that area of responsibility that we as a provincial government would have.
MS. MACFARLANE: Are we aware right now - in the provincial facilities, are there inmates who actually use medicinal marijuana?
MR. FUREY: There is nobody presently smoking cannabis in provincial facilities. That’s not a circumstance that we’re presently dealing with.
MS. MACFARLANE: My question was, is there anyone who is using medicinal marijuana in the sense that a doctor sees them? I know health records are personal. I’m just curious if doctors would apply medicinal marijuana to inmates for medical reasons, if that’s a definite no, they wouldn’t do that, or if it could happen.
MR. FUREY: As we speak, there is nobody consuming medical cannabis in the provincial facilities. We anticipate that it’s going to occur at some point in the future. As my colleague would know, there is a pill form - for lack of a better term - that is available in the medicinal stream. That’s the product that would be provided to the patient.
MS. MACFARLANE: It has been on my mind about golf courses being exempt, not having to be smoke-free. I’m just wondering, why would we apply this product to that same standard? Seriously, we’re going to allow people to go and light up a joint on the golf course? Really? We’re just opening up Pandora’s box if we allow that. I’m just wondering if we could have a little bit more elaboration on why.
I didn’t know that you could smoke at golf courses. I just thought you can’t smoke in public spaces. I’m just curious, why are we allowing that?
MR. FUREY: As I indicated earlier, the intention has been, where we can, to enhance the Smoke-free Places Act and align cannabis consumption with the Smoke-free Places Act. I understand the point that my colleague is making. Part of this decision-making process came from dialogue and consultation with other provinces from a health perspective, open space.
What I’m going to do is delve a little deeper into the rationale and provide a reply to my colleague. I don’t have that specific element that she’s looking for, but we’ll make the inquiry through our department, and I’ll be able to provide a response to my colleague.
MS. MACFARLANE: I would appreciate that because it’s something that I would think I would have to try to put an amendment in for. It makes no sense to me to allow your children to go golfing with you and allow you to use such a product.
We’re trying to align, but at the same time, no one can smoke cannabis in a car like they can smoke cigarettes. Why should we allow them to smoke cannabis on the golf course? It’s actually kind of becoming ridiculous. That ends the cannabis story for me.
I’m on to Boots on the Street. I’m curious about the amount of money that was invested in this project with the CBRM. How much money has actually been allocated for the CBRM area?
MR. FUREY: The allotment in the 2018-19 budget document for CBRM is 19 positions at a cost of $1.9 million.
MS. MACFARLANE: Is that a decrease or an increase?
MR. FUREY: The original numbers allotted in 2008-09, based on the budget document records, are 14. There was an increase in 2009-10, of seven positions. There was a decrease in 2010-11 of two positions, and the balance of positions would be 19, at $100,000 per position.
MS. MACFARLANE: I understand that there was a review. I don’t know a lot about it. I’m just wondering, has it been made public? How much has the review cost?
MR. FUREY: The cost for the report that my colleague talks about was about $44,000. The report has not been shared externally. It’s still in a draft format and being communicated internally within the department to our partners in both the UNSM and the Chiefs of Police. There’s still discussion and dialogue around the report itself.
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, am I allowed to ask questions about the review, or is that off limits for right now? Okay.
I’m just curious, do we know if there was an endorsement to create more locations in the province for this project in the review and if there would be an increase in funding?
MR. FUREY: I am a little sensitive to the questions because there are recommendations that we are still having dialogue around. I don’t want to compromise the work that continues. I would say that there will be a point in the future when the document becomes public and the review of the report and the recommendations that we do internally within the Department of Justice will become known.
To the point of my colleague’s question, the commitment we have made in this year’s budget is significant, first and foremost, and it is intended to maintain existing positions.
MS. MACFARLANE: I’ll move away from that. I’m just wondering, there was an OIC today - an Order in Council - that approved the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, entering into a funding agreement between Nova Scotia and Canada regarding the online judicial dispute resolution pilot project. I’m wondering if the minister can explain the project, what the cost is to Nova Scotians, and what benefits Nova Scotians will receive.
MR. FUREY: This online judicial dispute mechanism is unique. It’s the first of its kind in Canada. The federal government has asked Nova Scotia to participate. It’s funded by the federal government, depending on the growth of the program. It’s intended to initially start within the Nova Scotia Supreme Court Family Division.
There are no bricks and mortar. There’s no infrastructure. It’s an electronic-based online dispute resolution mechanism that the judiciary and others would participate in, intended to facilitate early resolution, I think first in the non-contested divorce matters, but with the opportunity to grow. This has the potential of saving real court time. We all know from the Jordan decision how valuable court time is. So it’s a unique program for Nova Scotia that we analyzed and took advantage of that opportunity.
I think to my colleague’s question, could there be a cost to the province going forward - quite possibly. I envision the expansion of this program to other courts, all based on the success of this pilot, for lack of a better term. When you look at these types of investments, I think the other lens we have to put on that is what we are saving on the other end in court time and judiciary and lawyers and police and overtime and other elements of the court process.
MS. MACFARLANE: I thank the minister for that. I look forward to seeing good results from this. It’s interesting, to be the first of its kind, so I’ll be following it closely.
Another Order in Council approved the Attorney General and Minister of Justice entering into a tripartite funding agreement from 2018 to 2021 with Canada and the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network to support the Mi’kmaq Customary Law Program.
Again, this is not familiar to me. I’m just wondering if the minister can explain what this program is and if there’s any financial attachment to it.
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I just wanted to confirm that there are two programs and confirm the details of the Customary Law Program.
This is a restorative justice initiative. It’s a partnership with the federal government, fifty-cent dollars. Federal money flows directly through to the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, who deliver the program, and the provincial contribution is rounded off to $110,000 over the three-year agreement, the first tripartite agreement of its kind. Nova Scotia is leading when it comes to these types of initiatives. Total expenditures over the three years are just shy of $1.1 million.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you very much, and I thank the minister for those answers. I congratulate him and his department. It’s nice to see Nova Scotia lead the way on something like this. I’m sure that it will unfold nicely and be beneficial, and I look forward to learning more about these programs.
I’m going to go to court services for a moment. First of all, I congratulate the minister on the expanded Domestic Violence Court as well. I was pleased to be able to attend the launching of this program. I think it’s fabulous and I’m very excited about it.
I guess my first question is - I know it’s early, but I’m just wondering if there are any discussions to expand it elsewhere in the province.
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I know a great spot on the South Shore of Nova Scotia that this program would fit very well. But to my colleague’s question, in all seriousness, the pilot project that was undertaken in Sydney proved valuable. The outcomes were what I would call substantive, to the point that we were able to make permanent the Domestic Violence Court in Sydney and expand it to HRM - a larger population.
The desire and intent is to monitor the Domestic Violence Court in Halifax, and to the point of my colleague’s question, yes, entertain and look at the option and opportunity to expand this service to other areas.
I believe, on a principle position, that this is a valuable medium to meaningful early intervention that can help change behaviours. It’s a model that I am monitoring very closely. I think there is a great opportunity to look at other locations for the Domestic Violence Court.
MS. MACFARLANE: Last Fall there was federal funding to provide sexual assault victims with access up to so many free hours - I think it was four. I’m just wondering, how is that number arrived at? What is the cost that Nova Scotia - I know it’s not costing Nova Scotia, but how often have we used it?
MR. FUREY: I don’t have the actual cost for the period of time - up to four hours of free legal advice - but we will work toward getting those numbers for my colleague. I just do not have that number available.
MS. MACFARLANE: My time is limited. I don’t want to have my colleagues - I can feel darts going in my back - look, I just want to finish off. I have tons of questions here, but I’m going to try to prioritize.
The one that is very important to me - maybe I have a soft spot for this individual. I didn’t know them. It is with regard to Angela Power. I know that the deputy minister and the minister are well aware, and I know that the minister has some colleagues who are very well aware of Angela Power as well. I do have waivers to speak on her behalf.
I’m deeply concerned about this individual and her children. Without getting into all the details, I just want to know how can someone like me, who will not be granted a meeting with the deputy minister and the minister - which is fine, I can appreciate whatever the reasons are - I just want to know, what can I do to help this woman and her children save their home and not lose it in the next few months?
Her ex-husband left the province, has a home that he could sell here in Nova Scotia - no one is living in it, but they could sell that home and then pay her what he owes her in child support so that she doesn’t have to lose her home. Her children grew up in that home. They are in their late teens. One is in university. She doesn’t mind me saying this - she owes $44,000 left on her home. That’s it. She is going to have to sell it because she had to spend over $50,000 or $60,000 with regard to trying to track down her ex-husband for payment.
Maybe I’m being fooled here. If I am, I’m a softie or whatever, but I want to help this lady. What advice does the minister have with his department so I can help this woman and her children?
MR. FUREY: One of the things I’ve come to learn about this role - not so much the Minister of Justice but the Attorney General responsibility - this matter is before the court, Madam Chairman. The individual my colleague referenced has filed action against the province. As the Attorney General, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what my views or recommendations may be. Regrettably, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the matter itself, as it is before the courts.
I know my colleague has a huge heart, and I commend her for that, but there are limitations that I have to abide by. That really is about the role of the Attorney General and not to be seen, real or perceived, to interfere in matters that are presently before the court.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank.
MR. BRAD JOHNS: I don’t know if the minister is aware or not, but I used to be the Chair of the Halifax Regional Police Commission. I was the first elected official. I gained a lot of insight into justice and crime at the time, so I could probably go on about a lot of different items here.
I have some very specific ones I would like to ask in regard to cannabis. I’m a little confused, and I’m looking for a definition and some clarification around things. Up until recently, my understanding was that “cannabis” was the official term of the plant, so in botany they referred to it as cannabis. I know that for a number of reasons, more politically correct reasons, over the last year or so people are referring to it not as “marijuana” but as “cannabis.”
The issue really is that they are two separate things. Cannabis is the plant, and marijuana, which is traditionally what people consume, are the leaves and seeds and that part of the plant, while hemp would be considered the stem and stalk and seeds that don’t reproduce.
Everybody seems to be referring to it now as cannabis and lumping it all into one pot, but what I’m not really clear about is that under the cannabis classification, there are a whole lot of other products that actually fall under that.
Tammy Jarbeau with Health Canada, she actually came out - and I did write her quote down. “‘The term cannabis includes more products than marijuana,’ which Health Canada defines as ‘the dried flowers, leaves, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant.’”
In addition to that, my colleague today was talking in regard to shatter, but from the marijuana plant or cannabis plant, in addition to dried leaf marijuana, is hash, hash oil, you have resin, kief - they even have an alcoholic derivative. That all comes from this plant.
I just want to be clear that when we are talking in regard to cannabis currently, we are only talking about products that are derivatives of the dried leaf and flower of the plant, and not other by-products such as hash oil and all those things. Can you clarify that?
MR. FUREY: I’m not a botanist and don’t pretend to be, and some of the language that my colleague is using is foreign is to me, so he’ll have to bear with me at this moment.
The terminology that we are using, “cannabis,” is a result of what is captured in the federal Statute that would have been drafted or created by the federal government. As we understand it here in the province, it is dried flowers; it is oils, including hash oil; and it is seeds.
MR. JOHNS: Thank you. As my colleague today was saying, where I see the difference between the ones I talked about and what he was talking about, which is shatter, is that, shatter, I believe - you have to have additional products added to it, where the other ones - oils and leaves and things like that - are just direct from the plant. So it does take in oils, waxes, and leaves, but not the hash form, then? I’m just curious to know what is going to be sold, that’s all.
MR. FUREY: I don’t know if I’m confused by what my colleague is asking, but I will repeat what I responded to in the first question. It includes dried flowers, oils, including hash oil, and seeds.
MR. JOHNS: Thank you, Mr. Minister. My next question is somewhat in regard to sales. In places in B.C. and down in the States, one way that governments have chosen to market is via vending machines, similar to what the old cigarette machines would be, or a candy or pop machine. Nowadays, you would go in the store, there would be a line of vending machines and certain weights. Each machine would have a certain type of cannabis, and different weights would be in the machines.
In addition to that, they also use it for edible products, which I know is down the road, but I want to be clear. It is my understanding that in Nova Scotia we will not be using vending machines. It will be people at the liquor commission, actual people who will be there to consult. It won’t be just a line of machines on the wall.
Can you just clarify that for me in regard to both leaf product as well as edibles down the road?
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I can’t speak to edibles, only because the federal government has not yet addressed that piece of this.
What I do want to share with my colleague is the regulations around those dispensaries. It is a federal regulation, and as we speak, the federal government, in drafting their bill, have prohibited those types of dispensing machines in the federal legislation.
MR. JOHNS: Thank you, minister. Those were just my two. I’ve heard numerous questions, but I hadn’t heard those asked. I wanted clarification.
I’ll turn things over to my colleague the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MS. BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a couple of questions for you. The first one is about providing legal services free of charge for people who are involved in the foster care system who are looking to adopt the children they have in foster care. I’m not sure if that’s a question for you, but I’ll ask it and then we’ll see.
I had a constituent who had taken custody of their granddaughter and another child. After a year and a half, they were going to file adoption papers, and because of their difficulty in reading the documents, they were granted a half-hour visit with a lawyer to go over the completion of the documents. I went with them because they had difficulty in understanding them and a half hour wasn’t very long.
I’m wondering if your department is involved in the allocation of those resources to Community Services.
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The short answer is no. It’s not an area of responsibility for the Department of Justice. It is free legal advice provided by Nova Scotia Legal Aid. The Legal Information Service of Nova Scotia also provides legal advice - I think via phone - for those types of circumstances, but it’s not in the area of responsibility of the Department of Justice.
MS. ADAMS: Thank you. I’m wondering if you can tell me how many free legal aid services your department provides for Nova Scotians and in what capacity they do that.
MR. FUREY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to confirm the question. I don’t know if I heard it all or if I was confused by it. Is my colleague asking what free legal aid services are administered through the Department of Justice? Okay, that is how I understood it.
We’ll have to confirm what those programs are. The most recent one that I’m obviously familiar with is the free legal advice for survivors of sexual assault that we announced this past Fall, but we will get a complete list for my colleague.
MS. ADAMS: I’m wondering if the minister could confirm whether those services for sexual assault victims have started yet or not, and if not, when will they start?
MR. FUREY: We announced the program and the program commenced in November. To this date, we have 40 participants enrolled in the program.
MS. ADAMS: I’m wondering if the minister can advise me as to how his department is getting the word out to the community that this is a program that is available to people. I would imagine it’s not something that you post on social media. Which organizations are working with you to help you do that?
MR. FUREY: There are a number of mediums used to communicate the program. It’s communicated through our website, through the courts’ website, Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia, and the Legal Aid service delivery model as well as Nova Scotia Family Law. It’s also referenced in the 211 service.
MS. ADAMS: That’s quite a long list, but I didn’t hear the Nova Scotia Health Authority. I’m just wondering if there’s an opportunity to have the emergency departments have some kind of pamphlet that could be passed out to people? That is hopefully the first place that people would go after an assault.
MR. FUREY: I think that’s a great idea. The suggestion from my colleague is worthy of follow up. We’ll commit to do that.
MS. ADAMS: I was just looking at the Auditor General’s Report that was released today for April 2018. In it, it gave a list of the departments that had completed all of the recommendations, and the Department of Justice had a 100 per cent completion rate. I’m loving that.
There is a reference here to the department, but it wasn’t specifically listed as something completed. It was completed, but I want to ask about the outcome of it. It says, “The Department of Justice should require that the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission prepare an annual business plan.” This was from February 2015. It says, “The business plan should include goals for the upcoming year and targets to achieve these goals. The Department should require that the Commission’s annual report reflect progress toward achieving these goals.”
I’m just wondering if there has been an updated report since February 2015?
MR. FUREY: Yes, there is. I have a hard copy of the 2018-19 business plan for the Legal Aid Commission. It is on their website, so it is available electronically. I encourage all members of the Legislature to read their business plan.
I’ll just take this opportunity to get a pitch in for our Nova Scotia Legal Aid service and those who are engaged in the Legal Aid Commission. They are doing valuable work. We are doing unique partnerships. The Land Titles Clarification Act is one example of where Legal Aid is working outside of the traditional boundaries to resolve, in this case, systemic issues of racism.
These are the discussions, this is the dialogue that we’re having, quite frankly, in a new model of access to justice.
MS. ADAMS: I’m wondering what the threshold is, in terms of income, above and beyond which you are not eligible to use the Nova Scotia Legal Aid process. I’m wondering what the income level is and I’m wondering if that changed from last year to this year to possibly reflect the cost of living increase.
MR. FUREY: Legal Aid has a table that identifies household income and sets standards. It’s on their website as well. One of the things that Legal Aid has injected into that table is discretion, so they do go above the numbers identified within the table.
They also provide, I believe it’s half an hour, up to two hours of free legal advice. They have a pamphlet from the Legal Aid office. I keep them in my constituency office and I share them often with individuals who come in who are dealing with legal matters and can’t afford a lawyer.
So there is discretion and there is a program that they provide some free legal advice to give people a general understanding of their circumstances.
MS. ADAMS: Thank you for that answer. With the introduction of the cannabis legislation, we’re all worried and wondering what is going to happen to the youth in the vulnerable ages between 15 and 19. We’ve already referenced a curriculum education change to talk about the health impacts of the legalization of cannabis, but I know when my kids were in junior high and they went to the DARE Program, they were taught about that substance as well as other substances.
I’m just wondering if, in addition to the health consequences of the legalization of cannabis, there’s going to be education about the legal consequences. People have some idea that with driving there’s zero tolerance for a certain period of time, but I’m just wondering how we’re going to educate them about the legal consequences of cannabis.
MR. FUREY: I had alluded to this, and I’ll take the opportunity to just explain it in a little broader format. I alluded to the education and awareness campaign earlier today in Question Period. I think that’s where we discussed it. There’s work being done by the federal government. They’ve done two rollouts now. We’ve engaged in discussions with the federal government and other partners - MADD Canada, as well as the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation - who have their own ideas and vision around public education and awareness.
As I indicated in my comments earlier, this is intended to be progressive. We’re not duplicating the public awareness and education message, so we are maximizing the value of the investments in public education and awareness. Inherent to that will be a provincial education and awareness campaign that doesn’t duplicate but enhances the work of our colleagues and partners. It will address and identify an education and awareness element around the restrictions, the administrative driving offences. I firmly believe that the best approach is through that medium of public awareness and education and communicating to people what those ramifications of those behaviours are.
We’ve seen more work to do in the area of impaired driving by alcohol. We’ve seen some significant programs and public education and awareness campaigns over many years. Some would question what effect it’s having, but I certainly see a greater awareness of the consumption of alcohol and mixing that with the operation of a motor vehicle or motor vessel. I anticipate a very similar public awareness and education campaign around the health impacts of cannabis as well as the administrative penalties associated with offences related to cannabis, both public use and impaired driving.
MS. ADAMS: This is probably my last question for you. I believe that at the moment, if someone near you was intoxicated and got into a vehicle, even if they didn’t start the vehicle, they could be charged by the police for being intoxicated in a vehicle.
So I have a two-part question. If someone were high and got into a vehicle, but didn’t start it up, could they be charged with driving under the influence, the same as they would for alcohol? The second is, if a father happened to have put four plants in the trunk of his car, or a certain amount of marijuana in the trunk of his car, and left it in his trunk, and then his 17-year-old son took the car to go to a soccer game and got pulled over, would the son get arrested for possession?
MR. FUREY: I’ll answer the first question first. The elements that my colleague is talking about, impaired driving by alcohol, the terminology they use is “care and control.” There are circumstances where law enforcement would gather sufficient evidence to lay a charge. The question becomes the magnitude of that evidence and the probability of conviction.
There have been cases where individuals have been convicted of care and control when they are simply occupying a vehicle, but I know there have been cases where individuals have been in the care and control of a vehicle have been found not guilty after being charged, because they were able to demonstrate that there was no intent to move the vehicle.
The same circumstances would apply to cannabis. If an officer was to come upon an individual in a vehicle and had grounds to engage that individual and explore for symptoms that that individual as an SFST - Standard Field Sobriety Test - officer could conduct, they may establish grounds to warrant a Drug Recognition Expert assessment, and that Drug Recognition Expert assessment could establish grounds to lay a charge of impairment by drugs or care and control by drugs.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
That concludes the hour with the PC caucus. We will now move over to the NDP caucus with about 17 and a half minutes remaining.
We have a request for a short pause.
We will have a recess for two minutes.
[6:44 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:48 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. CLAUDIA CHENDER: Well, with all the questions about cannabis, I figure I had better ask a few too. Apologies, I am sure some of this will be repetitive, but bear with me.
This is a basic question, one that I know has been asked. I’ll ask it again, and maybe I’ll find some new answers, I hope. We’ve heard a lot with all the questions from my colleagues in the Official Opposition and our discussion today and over the last couple of weeks about the fact that public health is the key aim of the legalization of cannabis, that we can better control it. Frankly, I agree. I don’t think there’s any disagreement with our caucus there.
We’ve heard the minister speak about education campaigns, awareness campaigns, policing, transportation, and vehicle checks, and yet to my knowledge - and I may have missed something - we haven’t seen any costs associated with the rollout. I wonder if the minister can point me to any costs in this budget connected to the implementation of the legalization of cannabis?
MR. FUREY: I thank my colleague for the question. There has been extensive discussion around what the cost might be, and I said in the bill briefing this morning with the media that a lot of the costs remain unknown. We don’t know what the impacts are going to be and what the inherent costs would be, but I will share some areas where I think my colleague would appreciate and understand where we may incur costs.
There has been a lot of discussion around policing and what types of pressures this will put on policing. That’s a fair question. I would suggest that law enforcement is not yet able to determine what those real costs are.
Inherently, there are other elements of public safety, health promotion, and education. I’ve talked about regulation and inspection, and these are areas I anticipate could present some costs. The other element I will share with my colleague, and I know she will well appreciate, is that there are areas where we know a specific cost - what we believe to be a specific cost - and I’ll be specific to education and awareness, but what we don’t want to do is disclose what we have budgeted for that, recognizing that we may be going into an RFP process.
We’ve seen in the past that when budget amounts are identified, RFPs and project costing mysteriously come in at the amount the government has publicized. We are very conscious of what may be a procurement process and we don’t want to compromise that. We want to make sure that the monies we’re expending are for real costs associated to those needs. Those are some of the areas.
The other element to my colleague’s question is the ongoing discussions that we are having with the federal government, the budgets that they have identified to support the legalization of cannabis on a national scale, and what proportion of those budgets we, as a province, would be able to access.
Those discussions continue, recognizing that there will be some cost to government. We know that. What I don’t want to do is provide numbers that we just cannot substantiate at this time.
What I will say is that we believe - based on the work we’ve done, anticipating some federal money, recognizing that we have budgeted some money that I am reluctant to speak to publicly because of that procurement process - that we would have sufficient financial flexibility in our budget forecast that we would be able to address those additional costs within the fiscal year.
MS. CHENDER: I appreciate the minister’s answer. At the same time, I know that there are costs currently being incurred - and this may be a question for another minister - but the Portland Street Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation across the street from my constituency is currently undergoing renovations, as are eight other similar stores. The Clyde Street facility is currently undergoing renovations. Those renovations have real costs.
The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is presumably hiring staff, and presumably those staff have pretty clearly accountable costs. I would assume that law enforcement is being trained.
You’ve talked particularly about motor vehicle stops - not that this is new. We know that people already have been driving under the influence of cannabis, so presumably law enforcement know how to deal with that, but I would assume that there is some increased awareness.
I understand that there are some costs that perhaps may not be anticipated. There are some ongoing costs. How are those being accounted for? I did see an article where the Premier also referenced that difference of opinion maybe - the Premier stated it more strongly than the minister did - with federal partners about who incurs the costs. Just to clarify, is my understanding correct that whenever that agreements comes, whatever dollars flow from the feds generally go to implementation? Or are they limited to a few areas of implementation that are under federal jurisdiction? Those are two questions, but I think they’re connected.
MR. FUREY: I’ll just try and break down my colleague’s points and questions. My colleague talked about the obvious expenses that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is incurring for renovations to those sites around the province as well as the Clyde Street location. I don’t know what the specific costs are but there are certainly costs associated to those renovations. I’m not a carpenter or contractor but I know what it takes to renovate a home. You’re looking at something of similar square footage. I don’t think $200,000, $250,000 per location is off the chart. I don’t know specifically what the amount is, but I recognize that there is a cost associated to that.
Around the HR and hiring staff process, that will be required certainly. That’s reality. I don’t have those details.
What I would share with my colleague around the funding is, we know that the federal government has committed to some funding for the country - all provinces and territories - in the area of law enforcement, which would include equipment and training and other components. There are varying numbers. The federal government has $274 million for the enforcement of laws related to cannabis legalization. When you split that up 13 ways - I anticipate there will be a formula, probably population-based - we would get a portion of that.
There is another fund for education and awareness. I know there was some pressure on the federal government. They increased that pot of money. I believe it’s in the area of $150 million - again, for 13 provinces and territories. We would get a portion of that. So some revenue is available to the province but the work that we’ve done, and just the awareness of the undertaking and a lot of this in kind - so the work that’s happening within the department has been really significant when I look at the collective number of people who are working on this file across multiple government departments, there would be - I suppose you could correlate costs to the hours expended.
I know in the case of the Department of Justice, I think I mentioned it earlier, 2.5 FTEs to really backfill the position of individuals who are undertaking that work and will, into the future. Those are identifiable costs that we’ve captured in this budget. But the collective costs, there are too many unknowns at the present time.
As this evolves and as this matures, I am sure we will land on specific costs, both with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation and within government in supporting those areas of policing, public safety, health, public education, and awareness.
MS. CHENDER: Thank you to the minister for the answer. I am afraid I still am somewhat confused, frankly, as to just why the public - I appreciate the back-of-the-envelope renovation estimate, I’m renovating a home myself, I can do that too - but hopefully we could actually know what amount from the public purse is going more specifically to these costs. Perhaps when they are available the minister could share them with us, and perhaps we’ll have the occasion to ask the minister in control of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation as well.
I guess a last question, we’ve talked a little bit in the briefing today and otherwise around the tenancy issues, so different rules may come in to different rental properties in particular. The minister has pointed out that the tenants will be able, with four months’ notice, give notice that they want to quit their lease if the lease doesn’t accommodate their needs. However, I think my colleague from Pictou West gave the example of a university dorm, another example I might give is a Metro Regional Housing Authority unit. What happens if those units, the residents of which often don’t really have another choice, are told they aren’t able to consume?
The answer may just be that they are out of luck, but I’d like to understand that a little bit better. In particular, while I respect that people will be given the chance to break their lease at no cost, it’s unclear whether there will be any significant number of rental units on the market after these changes go through that will, in fact, allow the consumption of cannabis, which does create a sort of a differential legalization, if you will, for homeowners and renters. I wonder if the minister could comment on any of that.
MR. FUREY: Specific to universities, universities can make their own policies. They apply the Smoke-free Places Act now, and I anticipate they will apply the same restrictions to cannabis.
Housing Nova Scotia, in principle, that landlord-tenant relationship would remain, and if that decision is that there be no consumption . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The allotted time for Supply has elapsed for today.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 7:06 p.m.]