HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2019
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: I call the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply to order. We will continue with the Estimates of the Department of Internal Affairs and Communications Nova Scotia.
The Progressive Conservatives have indicated they have no more questions, so we have the New Democratic Party, and you have 58 minutes.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
LISA ROBERTS: Yesterday, I started out with a bigger and broader question around how the department is trying to work with small- and medium-sized local businesses that face barriers in the way that requests for proposals and tenders are written. I would be interested in hearing the department’s response on that.
HON. PATRICIA ARAB: As we discussed yesterday, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, ISD and, in particular, Procurement was initially designed to look after strategic procurement opportunities. By their nature, they demand volume to achieve the best value. Opportunities that we have above the trade agreement levels that are posted to an open and competitive RFP are $10,000 for general goods, $25,000 for services, and $100,000 for construction.
You had also asked the question of how many procurements we complete of that nature. In the past year, Procurement completed over 450, but anything below those levels, individual departments complete, so that would be thousands more - those being ones that would go to local vendors. They are not posted on the Nova Scotia Tenders site, but they are completed by receiving three quotes and are selected for the lowest price. Some of the businesses that you are talking about would fall into those categories.
We also use the Flextrack, which is a third-party vendor, so we have sourced over 110 new and extended contracts last quarter, and all of those would have a total value of less than $100,000.
LISA ROBERTS: Our province’s experience with P3 projects for public infrastructure has been costly. For the Cobequid Pass, Nova Scotians have paid more than $300 million in tolls compared to the $66 million investment by the company. For P3 schools we paid $700 million and many millions more to purchase the buildings when those leases expired, and in one case that resulted in a profit of at least $52 million for one company. Now we are using the P3 model for a hospital.
Does the minister think public-private partnerships are a responsible method for building public infrastructure?
PATRICIA ARAB: Mr. Chair, when it comes to our procurements, we have to look at what the best options would be for particular projects. With the capital involved in a P3, we have the ability to pay over time and then lose the operating. The operating budgets then become part of the entity that is responsible for the buildings.
One of the biggest things is recognizing that government doesn’t always have the skill to be able to manage individual projects. We really look to those who are the experts in their fields to be the ones to take the leads so that we can most effectively be servicing Nova Scotians.
LISA ROBERTS: When the government was looking at the P3 model for the QEII project, what rule did Internal Services have in providing analysis to determine the possible risks associated with that model?
PATRICIA ARAB: We were part of a large team that had conversations, looking at all angles of what would be the best options for our redevelopment project. Typically, we play an advisory role, but it’s very much looking at things from a very pragmatic perspective and seeing what is in the best interests of Nova Scotians.
LISA ROBERTS: I am going to move to the FOI breach last year. I guess the question I continue to come back to on the situation is around the design decision to have one portal that was to be used for information that was to be widely available to the public and also to be used for information that was really very intimate.
I know the minister has talked about a new RFP being imminent for its release. It’s a bit of a double-barrelled question and if you don’t answer it, I’ll come back and ask for the piece I don’t hear. First of all, how do you explain the decision to have one design for these two very different end uses, which really needed to have very different levels of security?
PATRICIA ARAB: To be very clear, the rationale behind that was to be more accessible and to be more transparent and to have information. The intentions that were behind the FOI portal were 100 per cent well-intentioned. We wanted to make it easier for people to make requests, we wanted to make it easier for people to pay for their FOI requests, and we wanted to make it easier for people to receive those files.
The second part of that within being open government was not having multiple requesters asking for the same information - so something that was deemed public, having it be there, accessible. The rationale behind it really was to be more open and transparent and to be more progressive in terms of how we were dealing with these information requests from caucuses, media, and also from individuals looking for their own files.
LISA ROBERTS: As a former journalist, 20 years ago in Toronto I worked with an organization called Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. I participated in organizing a whole speaking event in Ottawa around access to information. I get that it’s important, and I think I understand that people are legitimately frustrated and sad that there had to be this incident which resulted in that access being affected.
That said, given the lessons learned and given that in my view, the process is similar, but the whole context around the request is so different for individuals asking for information about their own lives. The context around that desire for accessibility and transparency is so different. How will that be reflected in the RFP that is being issued?
PATRICIA ARAB: Reiterating the importance and our desire to be as accessible as possible, it’s why we haven’t given up on finding the right solution. We are taking our time to make sure that the RFP reflects exactly what the member is saying, which is having a site that has public information and very private and personal information.
Learning from the Auditor General’s Report, our Deloitte report, and the Review Officer has allowed us to see what part of the design and what part of the process allowed for the breach to happen, so when we’re developing our RFP we’re making sure that all of those elements are taken into consideration, so that moving forward we have a system that isn’t going to have the same flaw.
LISA ROBERTS: To be clear, will the RFP be for one contract, one product essentially, to serve both groups of users?
PATRICIA ARAB: It would be for one product, but part of the reason we go into RFP is to see what vendors would suggest in order to show us what the end product would look like. Given the nature of what we’ve experienced with what we previously had, what else is out there, what other possibilities are there, we’re very clear on what we want to have achieved, and the resources and the tools out there that the experts, as in the vendors, would know that could create that for us.
LISA ROBERTS: Was there any consideration given to having an RFP for the public facing documentation and a separate RFP for the private information being released?
PATRICIA ARAB: I think we looked at all options that would give us the results that we’re looking for, but really when it comes to private information - regardless of the vendor or what that tool looks like - the back end of the privacy piece needs to be as solid and secure as possible.
I’m not sure what we’re going to end up with because that will be what the vendors provide, and we’ll see what that looks like. At this point, it’s more about what the intentions are and making sure that we have an RFP design that clearly reflects those intentions.
LISA ROBERTS: The department’s accountability report lists one of its key initiatives as service delivery modernization, digital government, and the report says that the department is transitioning from in-person service delivery to a digital by default approach. The procurement has been started for online services to support the delivery of services to clients in Child, Youth and Family Services, the Disability Support Program, and Income Assistance.
Clearly, these are programs that work with very sensitive information and very vulnerable individuals. What risk assessments and threat analyses have been conducted for these projects?
PATRICIA ARAB: As each of those projects come in, privacy impact assessments and threat risk assessments will be placed on them.
LISA ROBERTS: Maybe the answer is what you just said, but what is being done to make sure that the department doesn’t make some of the same mistakes that we saw with the FOI portal?
PATRICIA ARAB: Definitely making sure that we have the privacy impact assessments on any projects that are coming through and having the threat risk assessment, having that just be a natural go-to regardless of the size of a project. You’re talking about things that are highly sensitive, but I think that one of the biggest lessons learned, from my perspective, is that we need to be treating all information as protected.
Somebody said to me once, calling it “crown jewels.” I think that we need to think about everything that we do in terms of Nova Scotians’ information from the most mundane to the most sensitive as being equally deserving of that same protection, that same lens.
LISA ROBERTS: Back in the Spring a year ago, which I’m sure you remember very well, the Premier described the downloading of information from the freedom of information portal as “stealing,” and now it is abundantly clear that that is not what happened. Information was posted without security protection.
A question that I have been left with is: Given the skill within your department and how quickly the issue was identified as a fairly common vulnerability, how do you explain that initial framing by the Premier of what happened as stealing?
PATRICIA ARAB: I think it is interesting, when you are looking at it from a year in retrospect everything seemed to be clear quickly, but actually when you are in the midst of it, it wasn’t as clear as quickly as it seems in hindsight, and our priority was to contain the data. Secondary to figuring out how that data was accessed came after trying to figure out what we need to do in order to contain this data, how to reel this back in - keeping in mind, too, that the people who are in front of cameras, we don’t have backgrounds in technology, we do not have computer science degrees, and we are not software engineers.
Not to discount it, but the semantics - there needs to be a little bit of leeway in that at first it did seem like somebody had stolen, and we didn’t know the intent. We didn’t know.
Would I use different words, or when I speak to the Premier would I encourage him to use different words? Absolutely, but in the midst of it, I tell you - and I think I used the term “horrific” yesterday in Question Period - it really felt that way.
Nova Scotians trust us, and they entrust their private information to us. To have this happen - you are not watching, you are not worrying about the words that you are using. You are trying to get to an end result of containing that data, protecting that data, getting that data back, and making sure that you are doing whatever you can to look after the people who have been impacted by this personally.
LISA ROBERTS: I do understand that, and I do appreciate it. I think it took me quite some time to understand what the issue was just because Internal Services, computer stuff, I can’t even figure out how to - I heard some good music yesterday, and I’m like, I don’t even understand how to buy music anymore. Can I go get a record?
I do appreciate that, but at the same I wonder if there are lessons learned in terms of language in those early days because, in the end, there actually was another victim in some way. Not that you want to have hierarchy of victims, but there was a young person who engaged in activity that, I think, many people who understand computers a whole heck of a lot better than me engage in, like downloading interesting looking sources of data to then play with afterwards. A bunch of police crashed through his door and he was characterized in a way that I think, in retrospect, was not fair. Are there any lessons learned around dealing with those things in the early days?
PATRICIA ARAB: Absolutely. I think that not only lessons learned with language, but also how we best utilize the teams we have in place in our IT sector, specifically our cyber-security team. There are definitely lessons learned and changes that will be made, but if you can find good out of the situation of last year, it did make me feel more confident in our process when both the Auditor General and the Privacy Officer said that we handled it appropriately.
LISA ROBERTS: In his follow-up report on 2015-16 audits, the Auditor General reported that the department had not completed the recommendation made in 2016 to apply security configuration standards for AMANDA and its related infrastructure to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. Can the minister explain why that recommendation is not completed?
PATRICIA ARAB: That was one recommendation where as a department we had made a number of changes and went back to the Auditor General who then suggested a minor change that has since been done - so it is now done, but it can’t be counted because it needed to be done prior to. Just to clarify, it was done after the date that was set by the Auditor General.
LISA ROBERTS: In the budget on Page 14.7, there is a fairly significant increase in Communications and Technology Services. Could you explain that?
PATRICIA ARAB: Part of that is the increase in our contract with Microsoft, but the bulk of it is that we now have a secondary data centre. I mentioned yesterday that we have a data centre that houses all the government’s and the Health Authority’s files. We have a secondary data centre, as well, that would be there for disaster recovery services.
LISA ROBERTS: Can you share how much the department spent on services provided by a temp agency last year and how much the department is budgeting for those services in this budget?
PATRICIA ARAB: Just under $75,000 on temps.
LISA ROBERTS: Do you anticipate spending the same amount this year?
PATRICIA ARAB: We only use temps on an as-needed basis, so we don’t set a budget. I would say that that’s typical of the average each year. Most of the positions are clerical coverage.
LISA ROBERTS: How much would the department have spent on external consultants last year?
PATRICIA ARAB: We can get that to you by the end of the day.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m looking at the budget and I’m not immediately landing on the budget for Communications Nova Scotia. Where do I find that? (Interruption) It’s under the Public Service Commission.
PATRICIA ARAB: Page 20.1.
LISA ROBERTS: This is me understanding how government works. The entire budget of Communications Nova Scotia is $7.771 million. Is that here under the Public Service Commission, because essentially Communication Nova Scotia’s work is all people who know how to write words?
PATRICIA ARAB: I’m going to try to explain this to you, and we’ll see if I land somewhere clear. It’s under the Public Service, because it is an agency that has one vote. It’s not because it has anything to do with the Public Service Commission.
LISA ROBERTS: One vote around the Treasury Board table?
PATRICIA ARAB: I’ll make sure staff has a little note for you. It’s an accounting, it’s another fine accounting.
LISA ROBERTS: I notice the estimate for marketing under Communications Nova Scotia has gone up as well. As someone who was a journalist for a long time, I’m always nervous around government’s marketing. I understand communicating and needing to communicate clearly with Nova Scotians but at the same time, frankly, marketing budgets can end up boosting the Party that happens to be in government at that time, as opposed to actually ensuring that citizens understand the services and the avenues that are available to them to access government services.
Can you speak to me a little bit about what is driving that already very substantial budget to increase further?
PATRICIA ARAB: Marketing is very much in the context. It is used not in a promotion of partisan government. It’s a promotion of the programs that are available to Nova Scotians and information campaigns that are needed in order for Nova Scotians to understand significant rule changes or programs and services that are available to them.
The way we’re communicating and the way that people are finding things out is very different than it once was. We’ve had a lot of success with video campaigns and social-media marketing. That would be around the legalization of cannabis and making sure we have a responsibility to educate and inform our home-heating rebate program, any services that we offer to seniors, and then understanding, too, that we have a cross- generational divide, so to speak, in our province.
How we communicate services and programs to seniors in rural Nova Scotia is different than seniors in urban areas. It’s different than 20-year-olds. It’s different than 40-year-olds. Even within the framework of social media you can look at the generations and how they interact with certain mediums differently. Some prefer Twitter. Then, you have an age demographic that only does Instagram. Our communicators are constantly trying to find ways to market the programs to get the information out in an atmosphere that is always changing.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate that. I guess two things. One is I’m still not sure why that results in that increase to the budget. I would be interested if there’s a specific reason that the budget of the last year was actually underspent and now the budget for the year coming is actually considerably more than the previous year’s budget. I’d be interested to understand. I would love to hear if that increase to the budget is going to result maybe in something akin to Halifax’s 311 service. I still find that at a constituency level it doesn’t matter how much you’ve marketed the various programs; in the end, what becomes very difficult is knowing which of those programs you’re supposed to be accessing.
I would say it’s true at the level of a resident with home heating where I’m really quite grateful for Clean Nova Scotia’s initiative to create one portal. If you have a wood stove, if you have an oil furnace, if you have electric heat, if you’re a renter, if you’re a tenant, if you’re a landlord, you can go to one place and find out and the information happens behind the portal. I’d say it’s also true in many cases for community organizations where you want to do something good or you’re working, for example, as a community social worker with somebody confronting a situation where we’re being marketed all kinds of things and it gets overwhelming.
I feel like I’m not that different from an elderly person in rural Nova Scotia with poor Internet. Sometimes, I would just rather call up somebody whose job it is to know what is out there and have a good conversation where I get navigated to, and maybe my hand held a little bit so I can actually get the help that I need on that day.
PATRICIA ARAB: A lot of the work and time that we’ve been putting into the novascotia.ca website is for that purpose. It’s to be very user focused so you’re not wading through pages. You can go in and you can ask a specific question and be directed to exactly where you want to be. When I tell you the number of pages that currently exist in government, I’m not sure how anybody has ever been able to find anything, and maybe we haven’t. I don’t know.
The streamlining and the amalgamating of the department’s contents and putting that up onto our site is really just primarily to give you that experience and give Nova Scotians that experience where you’re not feeling frustrated. You have the ability.
We also have the opportunity to promote 311. I know that within my constituency 311 is our go-to for anything that’s municipal, but I’d be willing to discuss that further and see if there’s something similar we can set up provincially.
LISA ROBERTS: I’d love to have that conversation because I think, number one, one of the things that actually works really well with 311, as you’re probably aware, is that when somebody calls with an issue, they get a ticket number. Having the ability to have a reference number that you can go back to when your issue has not been resolved is huge.
As the NDP spokesperson on housing, I can tell you that that is a real source of frustration for people. For example, if you are a tenant of the Metro Regional Housing Authority, you call someone and you say, I’ve got this issue with damage that was left after a flood. Currently, in the Metro Regional Housing Authority, they will issue a purchase order to buy the drywall, but then there is no actual ticket where the constituent can go back and say that somebody bought the drywall, but nobody came and installed it, or they installed it, but they didn’t come back and do the plastering or what have you. I have endless constituents saying they have an issue. I told them I called, and there is no tracking.
I think we all know at a constituency level how we are helping people as 51 ombudspeople across the province. I think that is great. Sometimes it can be a source of satisfaction for us as individuals or a source of satisfaction for our constituency assistants, but really, it’s probably not the best use of resources or the most effective.
I have one colleague whose constituency assistant has really got the system figured out with Nova Scotia Power. In my constituency office we have the relationship with the Metro Regional Housing Authority, but Nova Scotians across the board are not getting the same service and, in some cases, they absolutely are falling through the cracks.
I think if some of the marketing budget could go to a really solid 311-like system, because obviously at this point, about 50 per cent of our constituents live in Halifax. Maybe there can be efficiency by actually paying for the right to purchase that capacity or to boost that capacity for the province and extend it across the province. Then you are also catching the people in rural Nova Scotia for whom www.novascotia.ca might be a trip to a public library that is only open four days a week.
I think I am at the end of my time or at the end of my questions; I might not be at the end of my time. Thank you very much, I appreciate the answers.
PATRICIA ARAB: I want to thank the member for those ideas regarding 311. I think there is a lot of potential we can explore with them, but also with Service Nova Scotia’s call centre to see if maybe we can streamline some resources and see if we can be a more fulsome user experience. I definitely will look into that and would love to chat more with you about those. I think our ridings are very similar to each other.
THE CHAIR: I believe that concludes the questioning.
Shall Resolution E12 stand?
Resolution E12 stands.
Resolution E19 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $7,771,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Communications Nova Scotia, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E19 carry?
Resolution E19 is carried.
We will now take a brief recess while we switch out for the Department of Justice.
[11:54 a.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[12:02 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: Order, please. We will now begin the Estimates of the Department of Justice.
Resolution E13 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $361,438,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MARK FUREY: I appreciate the opportunity to present Budget Estimates on behalf of the Department of Justice. Joining me at the table are Deputy Minister Karen Hudson, to my right - many would know Karen - and to my left, Lisa McKinnon, who is the Director of Finance in the Department of Justice.
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for the opportunity to speak about Budget Estimates from the Department of Justice. I typically have insisted that my opening comments be compressed, because I do value the interaction with questions and opportunities to explain those elements of the Department of Justice budget. I will apologize ahead of time, because today my comments are a little extended, only to capture and address the significant amount of work that’s happening within the Department of Justice and, for your benefit, an opportunity to think of some things that you may not have thought of when it comes to the scope of work within the Department of Justice and the effort that the team makes.
For me, it’s a privilege to be here presenting the Department of Justice Estimates for the 2019-20 fiscal year. I look forward to once again speaking about the important work that the department, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, and our many other Justice partners are doing to keep Nova Scotians safe and our justice system fair, responsive, open, and accessible.
I have already introduced Karen and Lisa. I’m also joined today by Paulette MacKinnon, Director of Correctional Services. These people are all around me, this is part of our team: Jennifer Glennie, the Executive Director of Court Services; Roger Merrick, the Executive Director of Public Safety and Security; Bob Purcell, the department’s lead on the legalization of cannabis; and many others who are here with us and back in the department paying close attention to Legislative Television and Budget Estimates. I say that seriously.
The team members will be available. That’s the nice piece of the Red Room. As questions arise, we can call on any one of them with expertise to come to the table to be more direct in response to the questions presented.
As Attorney General, I also have the responsibility for the Public Prosecution Service. I know over in the left corner joining us today is Martin Herschorn. Martin is the Director of Public Prosecution Service for Nova Scotia.
Within my role as Minister of Justice, there are also a number of other independent agencies and commissions that report to me, including the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. The commission has done significant work to promote and protect the rights of marginalized Nova Scotians over the past several years, and I want to welcome Christine Hanson. Christine is the CEO of the commission. Many of you would know Christine.
Justice also has multiple other responsibilities: the Office of the Police Complaints Commission, Public Trustee, the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service, the Serious Incident Response Team, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal, the Office of Information and Privacy Review Officer, as well as the Accessibility Directorate.
As you can tell, Justice has many significant responsibilities, all of which touch on the lives of Nova Scotians and the freedoms we enjoy. Mr. Chair, 1,733 employees in the Department of Justice come to work every day. They take their work seriously, and their mandate and priority: the public safety and services to Nova Scotians.
For those not familiar with the department, I would like to take some time to discuss some of our core responsibilities of policing, court operations and sheriff services, maintenance enforcement, victim services, corrections, legal services, restorative justice, and accessibility. I would also like to speak to some of the important work that we have been doing, specifically in these areas.
First, I would like to take a few moments to touch on some of the department’s budget highlights for 2019-20. The budget for the department this year is $361.438 million. It represents an increase of $6.8 million, or 2 per cent over the previous fiscal year.
This year, we are investing $2.5 million to maintain the Additional Officer Program, a program that is very important to our communities and our law enforcement officers. The Additional Officer Program, formerly known as the Boots on the Street program, has helped to keep Nova Scotians safe and secure for more than a decade. We want this program to continue to be effective in supporting the policing priorities of our province and the communities that it helps protect. In this budget, the program will continue to maintain the additional 132 full-time positions across the province.
Investments in this program also include establishing a provincial director position to coordinate the program. The director will have the responsibility to ensure the program provides communities with an enhanced level of public safety and the coordination of those resources. The person in this position will also work with our municipal and policing partners to make sure the program can respond to emerging policing priorities, such as human trafficking, child exploitation, sexual assault investigations, domestic violence investigations, and other provincial public safety priorities.
Times have changed over 10 years since the program was first implemented, now 11 years. It has been a timely process to review the program and ensure that in the delivery and application of the program both provincial government priorities and provincial policing priorities are aligned as we deliver that program.
As you know, Justice continues to play a lead role in the legalization of cannabis. Legalization represents a significant policy shift. The health and safety of Nova Scotians, especially our children and youth, has been and will continue to be our top priority. This year, $2.5 million is being invested to support the department’s lead role in the coordination of policy development, development of the legal framework for legal cannabis, and police enforcement. This investment will cover staffing and other operational pressures as well as ongoing public education and awareness efforts.
Our education and awareness activities last year were hugely successful. We will build on the success of that campaign in the coming year as we speak about and introduce the legalization of edibles.
In addition to paid advertising on television, on radio, in theatres, on buses, and online, we work closely with our partners to ensure they have what they need, like impaired driving handouts; information on how to talk to your kids; and posters in schools, universities, and community facilities. When we partner with our stakeholders, that includes other policing agencies, the federal government, and organizations like MADD Canada. We wanted to ensure that our media public awareness campaign was not duplicating but, in fact, complementing each of the strategies and approaches that those organizations were advancing.
Our investment this year will allow us to build on our successful rollout of cannabis legalization, which I would argue was one of the most successful implementations anywhere in the country.
Mr. Chair, policing in First Nations communities requires a unique approach. An agreement between the province, the RCMP, and seven First Nations communities has been developed to meet the individual needs of each community. The continuation of this partnership, including an additional $378,000 provincial investment, will ensure consistent policing service for the Indigenous communities throughout Nova Scotia.
One of our most important jobs is making sure we keep the public safe and our communities well policed. I would like to take some time now to discuss our core responsibilities, beginning with public and policing safety.
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 our private security services and crime prevention and firearm owner licensing, which includes facilitating safety training for up to 5,000 people, each year.
This past year, we advanced a number of safety programs, including proclaiming the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act. You would all know that the rapid growth of smartphones, social media, and the anonymity of the online world has created increased opportunity for cyberbullying and the unwanted sharing of intimate images. The impact of these behaviours can be devastating for victims.
The Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act was adopted in response to the growth of these issues. It provides victims with support and alternatives to criminal prosecution. With this legislation, victims can now access free dispute-resolution services including advice, negotiation, mediation, and restorative justice. They can also seek a protection order through the courts for the alleged offenders to stop the activity, request removal of online content, prohibit further contact from the alleged offenders, and seek compensation for damages.
The province’s CyberScan unit works to help victims understand their options and navigate the justice system. This unit has responded to over 120 complaints since proclamation in July 2018. With the proclamation of this important piece of legislation, we also launched a new website with resources and information. Our resources are available in English, French, and Arabic and will soon be available in Mi’kmaq. We have also worked with the centres for education and the CSAP to get information directly into the hands of students and parents. CyberScan has delivered 169 cyber safety presentations across the province reaching almost 4,000 students.
We remain focused on ensuring all Nova Scotians have access to justice. This means providing easier access to services and programs. One of those programs is the Restorative Justice Program. Restorative justice offers victims an active role in addressing their harms and needs and in developing a plan for the future. It also allows offenders to play a role in addressing the harms they are responsible for.
For the past 20 years, Nova Scotia has been championing a restorative approach in our justice system. This has led us to having one of the most comprehensive restorative justice programs in the country. Since the program was launched, more than 26,000 cases have been referred to restorative justice. A restorative approach focuses on individual and collective accountability. It considers the histories, contexts, and causes of harms and their impacts. It works to bring about collaborative and non-adversarial resolutions.
We all know that crime can impact an individual’s or community’s sense of safety and security. It can impact the lives of families and loved ones. By addressing the harms and needs of those affected by crime, communities and individuals can begin to heal. Victims become less fearful of being revictimized, and offenders become less likely to reoffend. The department has increased internal resources to support the program, including the hiring of a restorative initiatives director and restorative approach coordinators.
We have also increased funding to community justice societies and MLSN - the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym - by $269,000 to increase caseworkers’ salaries to $45,000 from $37,000. On April 1st, they received the 2 per cent raise. We see and recognize, based on discussions this past year, the valuable role that those workers play and that those institutions and societies play in our communities. Increases were also paid to directors and other agency staff.
I can’t reiterate and express how much we appreciate the work of those eight community-based justice agencies. It was my position, when this became a topic of discussion last year, that they be paid fairly. We believe they have received that with this most recent agreement.
The department is also working closely with the justice agencies to improve our processes and build upon the success of this program.
Mr. Chair, as you are aware, we are also responsible for the welfare of people who are sentenced or remanded to our adult and youth correctional facilities. We have responsibility for making sure that they are kept safe and that we are doing our very best to support their successful reintegration back into society. This past year, we invested in body scanners at each of our four adult facilities. These devices are dramatically reducing the smuggling of drugs and contraband into our facilities. We have also equipped all our correctional facilities with naloxone kits to immediately deal with opiate overdose emergencies. Three lives have already been saved in our jails since naloxone was made available to correctional services and health care staff. I might also add at this time that we have made naloxone available for our police across the province and that they, too, have saved lives by administering naloxone in the field.
We recently created an inspector position within our facilities. This new position will play an important role in keeping inmates and staff safe and our correctional facilities secure. The inspector will identify and mitigate risk in our adult and youth facilities, as well as community corrections, and ensure correctional services complies with all its policies and procedures. In addition to the new inspector position, we have hired two additional social workers, 10 dedicated program officers, and two and a half additional teachers.
As you would know, we recently opened the direct supervision units at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility; $6.8 million was invested in renovations and upgrades to the centre, and we are also upgrading security surveillance at Central this year. Direct supervision has proven to increase the safety of staff and inmates, improve staff-offender relations, and improve work environments. Having correctional officers work in the day rooms with inmates reduces violence and models good behaviour. It also gives officers the ability to diffuse situations before they escalate. Direct supervision has been in place at the North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility since it opened four years ago and continues to work extremely well.
I am a big believer that society is best served by a justice system that is focused on support, rehabilitation, and reintegration rather than exclusively on punishment. I say that with 32 years of experience in policing. I could predict on weekends the offenders we would engage for no other reason than it was simply the hard hammer of the law without any attention to rehabilitation and reintegration. I am pleased to say that that culture has changed, but it needs to continue to change.
Our programs within the facilities support inmates in a variety of areas, including substance abuse, education upgrading, and anger management. Six new program officers have been hired for the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, two at the North East Correctional Facility, and one at the Cape Breton facility. We’re currently recruiting for the position at the South West Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Yarmouth. These program officers have been hired to provide increased and dedicated programming for inmates.
Working with the Nova Scotia Community College, we have delivered a new program called Limitless. This program helps inmates gain college credits and transition to community college once released. Mr. Chair, 69 inmates have participated in the program so far, and 10 started in the community college program just this past Fall.
Correctional Services also works closely with the Elizabeth Fry Society to help meet the needs of female inmates, many of whom have themselves been the victims of violence. The Elizabeth Fry Society does excellent work for vulnerable women and girls to help address some of the root causes of criminal behaviour. We’re proud to support it through core funding for its work both inside our correctional facilities and within our communities. Last year, the Departments of Justice and Community Services together provided an additional $80,000 in funding to provide overnight staffing and programming at Holly House. This funding allowed Elizabeth Fry to address a housing gap for women being released from the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility and for women on remand who are unable to be released due to lack of housing. In March of this year, government provided an additional $112,500 to ensure 24/7 staffing.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my colleague, the NDP House Leader, who engaged me on both occasions to stress the importance of support to that program.
Another important community partner is the 7th Step Society. This nationally recognized program run by volunteers, including lawyers and ex-offenders, supports male and female inmates in being accountable for their decisions and making pro-social future decisions. The 7th Step Society meets with inmates and continues to provide weekly support meetings to individuals upon release. These partnerships are key to providing much-needed interventions and skills training to help inmates transition from custody.
In addition to inmate programs, we provide cultural training to staff. More than 500 correctional officers have received the L’nu-way cultural training. We’re also actively recruiting African Nova Scotian and First Nation employees at provincial adult and youth facilities. We are currently recruiting for two Indigenous liaison officers and have assigned an African Nova Scotian probation officer to provide support for African Nova Scotians involved in the justice system. These individuals will work to ensure a better connection with members of these communities while incarcerated and upon release.
Community corrections provides an additional 60-plus programs throughout the province such as Options to Anger, respectful relationships, career development, and addictions education. They also provide culturally specific programs, including healing circles in Indigenous communities, and have partnered with SchoolsPlus to offer Options to Anger in schools.
Supporting victims of gender-based violence is a significant focus of our work and a priority for me as the minister. Last year, we opened our second Domestic Violence Court in Halifax and made our pilot program in Sydney permanent. This program takes a different approach than regular criminal court. It engages people and services in the community to support family members who have been harmed, help accused individuals make changes, and ultimately, end the cycle of violence. The focus is on providing supports for survivors right away and guidance and behaviour change for those before the court. This is prevention in action, and it is an important new addition to our shared efforts to respond to domestic violence in our communities.
We need to intervene in meaningful ways like this to address domestic violence. One of the primary and often first opportunities to intervene comes from the police. Their role is paramount, particularly at the initial reporting stage when a complaint is made and responded to. I appreciate that the complexities of domestic violence cases can be a challenge for police. This is why it is so critical that officers are well-trained in domestic violence response and that they take a trauma-informed approach to domestic violence calls. We have delivered seven intimate partner violence training sessions for police across the province over the past five months. This training and the use of the train-the-trainer model will ensure that more responders and others are equipped with those critical tools. Addressing and combatting domestic violence is a priority for my department and for our government.
Later this year, the public inquiry into the deaths of Lionel Desmond; his wife, Shanna; their 10-year old daughter, Aaliyah; and Mr. Desmond’s mother, Brenda, will get under way. Many questions were raised by the family and members of the community following this tragic event, questions as to how this could have happened and whether anything could have been done to prevent these deaths. This inquiry will hopefully provide us all with answers to these questions so we can keep similar events from happening in the future. I recognize that the process is likely to be difficult for families. The department’s Victim Services unit has and will continue to support them through the inquiry process.
We know the criminal justice system is often a re-traumatizing experience for survivors of partner and sexual violence. For this reason, it is ever so important that those victims who make the difficult decisions to take action in criminal court have access to legal counsel in important aspects of court applications. It is a priority for me and for this government to ensure the complainants of sexual violence are supported. It is unfathomable to think that a female victim or survivor would have to represent herself before the courts.
We recently expanded supports for sexual assault victims, providing them with access to free legal representation to challenge applications to have their past sexual history considered as part of the evidence in a criminal court case. We want to ensure that those victims interested in obtaining legal counsel have the opportunity to do so without undue financial hardship. This support is in addition to the free, independent legal advice program, which I announced in November 2017. It is another important step in helping to make the road to justice and recovery easier for victims and survivors. The last count I heard of victims and survivors taking advantage of that program was in the area of 170 people. We can see the value of that particular program.
Another area that is important for me is maintenance enforcement. This is a priority for our government and for our Premier. We are working to strengthen our Maintenance Enforcement Program and getting court-ordered child and spousal support to families. The Maintenance Enforcement Program is important. It supports the financial and emotional stability of Nova Scotians. Our program collects and distributes approximately $230,000 a day, or $5 million a month, to families enrolled in the program. About 10 per cent is collected through interjurisdictional support orders. That’s why provincial co-operation on this issue is so important. We work to ensure that families who rely on child and spousal support that has been ordered by the courts get it.
I am pleased with the outcomes we’re seeing, and I’ll share some of those with you. You would recall in the 2017-18 budget, we committed to six additional FTEs within the Maintenance Enforcement Program worksite in New Waterford. We are reaping the benefits of that investment as we speak.
The Maintenance Enforcement Program is about providing that financial stability to families. With financial stability comes a path to opportunities and success. Strong families mean strong communities. Support payments are often the difference between surviving and thriving. You would have heard me say they are the difference between living in poverty and out of poverty.
There are more than 14,000 children who depend on court-ordered support payments being made in full and on time. We are committed to making sure we are doing all we can to support them, including collecting on outstanding arrears. Arrears are down 9.1 per cent from March 2018 and now stand at $57.6 million. That’s the lowest level in a decade. Much of this is due to improved enforcement actions through those additional resources. We’re up 29 per cent in enforcement in 2018-19 compared to the previous year. We’re committed to better enforcement, better customer service, and improved communication with families who rely on this program. We have been working hard to improve this program.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those who work within the Maintenance Enforcement Program. When I was appointed Minister of Justice, my first commitment was to visit them in New Waterford. I have been back on a second occasion to speak to them about the value and importance of their work. Quite frankly, they have risen to the occasion. They are passionate about the work they do. They recognize the value of the work they do for families specifically, and more often young, single mothers with one or more children. We could not do the work we are doing if it were not for the commitment and passion of those people in New Waterford who go to work every day, quite frankly, with a level of excitement.
One example of the work we are doing is the ongoing development of a new service to improve online access through mobile and tablet devices. Once launched, this will vastly improve services to our clients.
We have also recently made changes within the department, creating a separate division for maintenance enforcement and victim services. The importance of both programs in respect of access to justice will be better reflected in the new structure. These two program areas are an integral part of our access to justice priority. Forming a dedicated division will give greater focus to these key areas.
Another area I want to speak about briefly is accessibility. This area of focus is a priority for me and our department and for our government as a whole. The province’s Accessibility Act sets an ambitious goal to become barrier-free and accessible by 2030. We know this is not a small task. It will take government, business, communities, and individuals working together to get there. Recent Statistics Canada findings show that almost one in three Nova Scotians identify as having a disability. We anticipate that this number will grow as our population ages. These numbers underscore both the significance and the timeliness of the Accessibility Act.
We have advanced a great deal of work under this legislation, including the establishment of the Accessibility Advisory Board, the release of a provincial strategy, and the adoption of government’s first accessibility plan. Most recently, we named 39 members to help develop the province’s first accessibility standards. The Education Standard Development Committee will develop recommendations for standards to make the education system more accessible for students with disabilities, while the Built Environment Standard Development Committee will focus on the accessibility of buildings and public spaces. Both committees will be holding their first meetings later this month.
There are also a great number of projects under way in the private sector, academia, and others. One is the recently launched Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program, which is being delivered in partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College. Assessors are being trained to analyze buildings and sites for overall accessibility.
CarShare Atlantic recently launched Canada’s first accessible car share service here in Halifax. Sobeys is now offering sensory-friendly shopping, as is Neptune Theatre, which is also delivering ASL performances. Of course, the community of Inverness - thanks to the installation of wide ramps, special mats, beach-friendly wheelchairs, and floating chairs - is enabling persons with mobility challenges the opportunity to enjoy the beach. This will expand across the province. These organizations, along with many others across the province, have been instrumental in advancing our shared goal of an accessible Nova Scotia.
One area of primary importance to me and to the team within the Department of Justice and across government, frankly, is that our justice system be representative of the people it serves. As part of our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, we are developing the province’s first Indigenous Justice Strategy. The strategy will focus on four main pillars: partnership, collaborating for success; prevention, tackling the issues that matter most to communities; people, a workforce that reflects the diversity of our province; and program and policy, offering programming that is reflective of and sensitive to those who we serve. This work includes the hiring and recruitment of more Indigenous employees, providing justice employees with cultural competency training, and ensuring culturally responsive programming.
Over the past year, we have undertaken numerous initiatives aimed at increasing cultural and racial representation, and we have built upon some of our existing efforts. We continue to support the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaq Initiative, commonly referred to as the IB&M Initiative, at Dalhousie University. This initiative aims to encourage more Black Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq students to join the practice of law, something that is paramount to creating a more equitable justice system for everyone. I attended the last graduation, and the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaq Initiative was proud, in the 200th year of Dalhousie University, to graduate their 200th graduate from that program. Our support for this initiative includes providing funding, articling positions, and a new mentorship program for Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq law students.
We continue to offer culturally responsive programs in our correctional facilities including smudges, sweat lodges, and a Red Road sharing circle. We have a number of staff-directed initiatives under way within our department, including diversity lunch and learns, Aboriginal cultural context training, KAIROS Blanket Exercise, and as was already mentioned, the L’nu-way culture and training.
This past year, we opened the province’s first Wellness and Gladue Court. This is a significant milestone for Nova Scotia. It’s the first court facility that provides Gladue, Wellness, Provincial Court, and Supreme Court of Nova Scotia family services all under one umbrella on a First Nations community. We believe it’s the only model of its kind in the country. There are other courts in First Nations communities, but none, we believe, that reflect all of those four components. This allows Indigenous offenders to accept responsibility for their actions.
Let me back up. This court considers the broader issues facing Indigenous people, such as the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. It also allows indigenous offenders to accept responsibility for their actions, which is more consistent with indigenous culture. We recently introduced the eagle feather to courts across the province, allowing Indigenous witnesses, accused individuals, victims, and others appearing before Nova Scotia courts to take legal affirmations with the sacred eagle feather. The program started here in Membertou with a thought and an idea from a Mi’kmaw female police officer who was originally from Membertou. She was the first to advance this thought, which became a national public policy of the RCMP for victims, witnesses, and members from the community. That was done parallel to the time we introduced this within the Nova Scotia court system.
In addition to ensuring cultural diversity in our programs, we also must make concerted efforts to hire, promote, and advance diverse individuals. In 2017, we achieved gender parity on the bench, with 18 of the province’s 35 full-time Provincial and Family Court judges now being women. This is a passion and desire and objective of the Premier himself.
He has surrounded himself with strong women. In the deputy ranks of government, women outnumber men. The senior leadership in my department, if you look around, for the most part, are senior experienced women with legal training and business backgrounds. We are creating a shift and a change, and it’s a shift and change that I’m proud of as a government. It’s a shift and change, and I’m proud of the Premier, who is leading this. It’s a shift and change with the department when I sit in a boardroom of 14 or 16 people, and I’m the only male. That is a humbling and valuable experience.
We’re also focused on recruiting more African Nova Scotian, Mi’kmaq, and other diverse groups into positions within the department and on our public boards, agencies, and commissions. We all want to see ourselves reflected in our decision-making bodies. It inspires confidence and public trust in our justice system.
The Department of Justice and Nova Scotia Legal Aid continue to play important roles in helping residents living in North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook, Lincolnville, and Sunnyville get clear title to their land. For generations, many residents and African Nova Scotian communities faced barriers to getting clear title to the land they live on. This year, the department is budgeting almost $600,000 to fund two Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyers and two support staff to do the legal work needed as well as to cover probate and migration fees. This is part of our commitment of $2.7 million over two years.
I should also tell you the United Nations has reached out and on two occasions, we’ve had representation from the Department of Justice go to the United Nations in Geneva and speak on this very subject. The work that is happening within the community is being recognized globally.
Our Legal Services team has played a key role on this project as well as many other areas of work. The work they do touches on all aspects of government business; they, in fact, are government’s law firm. Providing legal advice to government is another of our core responsibilities I want to highlight. Our Legal Services staff play a crucial role in the work we do, providing all government departments with sound legal advice and helping government achieve its priorities. In the private sector, they go to large corporate law firms; in government, we turn to Legal Services, the law firm of government. We’ll be hiring four FTEs to increase legal support for child protection cases. Our legal team is highly respected, and they do an excellent job representing the Crown and protecting the public interests when called upon through the courts.
Apart from our core responsibilities, justice is also taking the lead role in the legalization of cannabis. This represents a significant policy change for Nova Scotia. The possessing and selling of non-medical cannabis are no longer criminal offences. The legalization of cannabis came with the sweeping changes to legislation and a concerted effort to educate Nova Scotians on our laws and the health risk of cannabis, and cannabis impaired driving. The public interest in how government is addressing this issue has been understandably high. All our work is guided by the principle of protecting the health and safety of Nova Scotians, especially children and youth.
In developing our framework, we consulted widely with experts, other jurisdictions, and thousands of Nova Scotians - more than 30,000 to be exact - and we believe we have achieved a well-regulated system. Legalization has gone smoothly in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation has done a remarkable job retailing cannabis, as have our policing partners, who continue to watch for impaired drivers on our roads. The seamlessness with which the province and Nova Scotians have transitioned to legalization is worthy of note. For this, I want to praise the efforts of many, including our team in the Department of Justice and across government, but in particular Bob Purcell, who led this file within the Department of Justice. His commitment and dedication to this work, quite frankly, was unprecedented, and he continues to fulfill that role as we advance the discussion around edibles.
Of course, there are still more changes to come with the introduction of edibles. Education and public awareness will again be a big part of the work we have ahead of us. It served us well in the legalization of cannabis. I’m confident it will serve us well in the legalization of edibles.
I’ll just say a few words about the Public Prosecution Service. The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service represents the Crown and all criminal proceedings. It was the first independent prosecution service in Canada. The PPS employs 103 Crown Attorneys and has a total staff of 176 in 18 offices across the province. Our Crown handles about 50,000 Criminal Code charges every year. On top of that, they handle trial court appeals. In addition to prosecuting all Criminal Code offences in Nova Scotia, the PPS is responsible for prosecuting some 10,000 violations of provincial Statutes annually. Major cases are complex and often high profile and require a significant amount of 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.
PPS makes it a practice to assign at least two Crown Attorneys to each murder case with at least one being a Senior Crown Attorney. This is essential to professionally respond to the demands of these difficult cases. Crown Attorneys with the special prosecution section provide advice and prosecute major and complex prosecutions. These can include organized crime murder prosecutions, complex fraud cases, historical sexual assaults, proceeds-of-crime cases, cyber crime and child pornography offences, provincial regulatory offences, and cases related to Aboriginal law.
I’d like to talk for a few moments about the challenges that we’re facing in the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service and this government’s effort over the last couple of years to support the PPS in successfully meeting these challenges.
The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Jordan resulted in new rules for an accused’s right to be tried within a reasonable time period. All superior-court cases and all trials that have a preliminary inquiry now have a time limit of 30 months from the date when the charge has been laid to the completion of the trial. For Provincial Court trials, the time limit is 18 months.
For cases that go over these limits, the delay is considered to be presumptively unreasonable and the charges will be stayed. This decision has created immense pressure in every jurisdiction across the country.
PPS, working with others, launched a number of initiatives to deal with Jordan. The most successful of these is the Dartmouth intake team, a pilot in which five dedicated Crown Attorneys and one legal assistant are assigned to ensure cases are handled according to the new time guidelines.
The team often conducts all of the arraignment days and performs a thorough assessment as to the realistic prospect of convictions on all charges. They contact complainants who appear to be hostile or recanting to further assess file liability; they provide direction to police for follow-up on any investigative gaps; they conduct meaningful communication with defence counsel about early resolution; and they determine which witnesses may be required for trial and, equally important, which witnesses would not be required for trial.
This Dartmouth intake team initiative has had highly positive results, reducing time to trial in the Dartmouth Provincial Court from up to a year down to two or three months. From December 19, 2017, to August 31, 2018, a total of 167 files were referred to restorative justice by the Dartmouth Crown Attorneys’ Office. These efforts have reduced time to trial, and those cases that do go to trial are improved with the benefits to all system stakeholders and with a reduced cost.
Two new dedicated Crown Attorneys perform as regional leads or specialists for sexual violence cases. These two positions deliver training programs to Crown Attorneys across the province; they develop resources to assist Crown Attorneys prosecuting sexual violence cases; they develop measures for monitoring performance of sexual violence cases; they collaborate with other Justice partners working to address sexual violence; and they prosecute sexual violence cases either alone or in partnership with other Crown Attorneys.
The accomplishments this year include two one-day training conferences in March and December 2018, mandatory for all Crown Attorneys; briefs developed on common legal topics and sexual assault prosecutions, as well as a guide to objections; file closing survey developed for gathering metrics to identify problems and training needs, to commence in 2019; training provided to 80 community organizations, police agencies, sexual assault nurse examiners, and government justice partners; and assistance to Crown Attorneys provided in 54 cases.
The PPS developed a comprehensive prosecution policy this year to guide Crown Attorneys in cases where Indigenous people are accused or are complainants. The policy was developed in accordance with the established special legal constitutional status of Indigenous peoples. All Crown Attorneys were trained on the policy at the PPS educational conference, and the policy was rolled out publicly earlier this year.
The Public Prosecution Service also continues to contribute to the domestic violence courts operating in Cape Breton and Halifax with dedicated Crown Attorneys and support staff.
Before I close, I want to share some of the important work being done in Nova Scotia by both government and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
The commission itself is a leader in innovative approaches. Its online education on racial profiling has helped businesses address racial profiling. This was launched two years ago as a result of an incident and complaint at a Sobeys store in our province, and as a result, has trained thousands of Nova Scotian front-line staff in this particular area.
This initiative and model of training were picked up and recognized by the Retail Council of Canada. They are now being used nationally in partnership with the Retail Council of Canada.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, as you are aware, also took a lead role in addressing the issue of street checks. Building a more inclusive province, one that respects the rights of every Nova Scotian, is imperative.
During my time in law enforcement, I worked in many communities. Many of them were marginalized, and I was witness to the systemic and economic racism that exists. We need to do better, and I’ve committed to doing better.
Nova Scotia, not unlike many other provinces, has episodes from our past and even present that we’re not proud of, but we’re taking deliberate and positive steps forward. In 2017, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission announced it would collaborate with community and police to study the issue of street checks. Professor Scot Wortley was selected by the commission to review all available data, consult stakeholders, and provide a report with recommendations.
As a result, we know that African Nova Scotians are six times more likely to be stopped than other residents in HRM. That’s according to police statistics. I’ve said it publicly, and I’ll say it again: these findings are alarming and unacceptable. It’s clear from the many personal stories I’ve heard and the stories I’ve read that change is needed. I’ve committed to do that.
The issue of overrepresentation in our criminal justice system goes beyond street checks and traffic stops. A broader discussion is needed and continues. I understand the frustration of the African Nova Scotian community in these circumstances, and I’ve committed to having an action plan presented to me by May.
I’ve asked representatives of the coalition, the Human Rights Commission, the police board, law enforcement, youth, and other key partners in government - which will include representation from the province, both the Department of Justice and African Nova Scotian Affairs - to work together in developing a short-, medium-, and long-term action plan. As Dr. Wortley points out, it is the application of street checks in HRM that is problematic, and we have to work to ensure that application is lawful.
I’d like to thank Christine Hanson and others with the Human Rights Commission for supporting this work and for their commitment to continuing our efforts to combat the injustices highlighted in Professor Wortley’s report. The Wortley report has been helpful, and I want to thank the African Nova Scotian community, police, the Human Rights Commission, and others for their participation in this work. I look forward to receiving an action plan in May.
Before I conclude my remarks, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each of our more than 1,700 employees in the Department of Justice for their commitment to the people of Nova Scotia. Many of them are on the front line dealing with very challenging situations every day. Nova Scotians, I believe, can be extremely proud of the work the Department of Justice team does on their behalf. They accomplish great things every day. They quietly go about their work, often with laughter, keeping our province safe and secure. When I say “laughter,” it gives you a sense of the mood of the workplace. It’s not uncommon as I walk through the building to hear varied levels of laughter and interaction in the workplace.
With those comments, I’ll conclude. I look forward to the opportunity to respond to the questions of my colleagues.
THE CHAIR: We’ll move to the PC caucus.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
TIM HALMAN: I’d like to thank the minister for his opening remarks, and I’d like to welcome staff here to Estimates. I want to thank the staff with the Department of Justice for the work they do on behalf of all Nova Scotians.
The minister’s remarks spawned a lot of questions. The first set of questions will come more or less from the opening remarks, and again, thank you for that.
With respect to the Boots on the Street program, it was indicated that there are 132 full-time positions and that there is a coordinator for the program. The provincial policing priorities were also mentioned. What are the provincial policing priorities as they relate to the Boots on the Street program?
MARK FUREY: I’ll give you an idea of what those priorities were when the program was first implemented, how our province has changed with a Justice lens, and how the work of policing has changed over that time.
A lot of the focus of the street crime team, when it was originally launched in 2007-08, was on organized crime, drug availability, and prosecutions enforcement in our communities. There was an element of those resources used for impaired-driving initiatives. There were positions assigned to some specialty roles. But as we look forward 10 years - a timely opportunity to review that program - times have changed.
You heard me speak earlier about cybercrime and some of the circumstances there. We’re hearing recently - and it’s not new to Nova Scotia - about the high incidence of human trafficking with numbers coming from Statistics Canada. We’re seeing a greater attention and focus in the areas of sexual assault investigations and domestic violence investigations. These are driven by the recent circumstances of #MeToo and a higher level of reporting and greater support systems for individuals to come forward.
A continued focus on road safety, on driving impaired both by alcohol and drugs - we know opioids are a new drug to the province. In many ways - although never fortunate, because a loss of any one life is one too many, this phenomenon - if I can call it that - started on the West Coast in B.C. We see the staggering numbers and incidence in B.C., and it migrated across the country. As you would know, the Department of Health and Wellness, in partnership with a number of other departments, created an opioid strategy with the Chief Medical Officer for the province. In many ways, it prepared us for opioids, but there is also a role for police to play, both in education and awareness in that area, so that’s another change from where we were 10 years ago.
The restorative justice program and model that I spoke about earlier - Nova Scotia has a history of providing a unique service that provides those drawn into the criminal justice system an alternative or an off-ramp, if I may call it that. That has been well established. We see an opportunity to further enhance that restorative justice model, to provide greater opportunity for alternatives to the traditional court system.
These are just some examples of where I see these resources being aligned with those provincial priorities that will allow us to further enhance public safety.
TIM HALMAN: Minister, I have no doubt that in the 32 years you served as a police officer you saw priorities change dramatically in terms of police resources being directed at certain problems or situations confronted within Nova Scotia.
You mentioned human trafficking. I think Nova Scotians need to know what the plan is to actively combat human trafficking, so I’m curious as to the money that is allocated for that. What is the estimate to combat human trafficking, and could you outline the Department of Justice’s plan to go after human traffickers?
MARK FUREY: I spoke earlier about the statistics that Statistics Canada have presented. We have numbers that are above any other province in the country. There is an element of enforcement service delivery within our law enforcement community, both the RCMP and Halifax Regional Police, and they continue to focus on these types of investigations.
These are very complex, difficult investigations. It’s hard to have witnesses come forward and be satisfied that their personal safety will be maintained. We’ve had extensive discussion and dialogue with our federal partners. Without getting into details, we have struck an agreement with our federal partners, and we’ll be doing what I would call a pretty significant announcement this month around human trafficking.
I can’t share the details of that as we speak, but I think you will be pleased. I think Nova Scotians will be pleased. Communities and parents who often express both the fear and lived experiences that they have and continue to go through will see that we are taking the issue of human trafficking very seriously.
TIM HALMAN: Is there an expenditure associated with combatting trafficking here in Nova Scotia? Is there a number you could say to Nova Scotians, that this is X amount of dollars that we’re putting towards combatting human trafficking?
MARK FUREY: The budget commitment for 2019-20 under the gun and gang initiative is $497,000.
TIM HALMAN: Minister, you’ve indicated that there’s certainly co-operation between the Halifax Regional Police and RCMP. Am I correct in saying that there’s also active co-operation between Halifax Regional Police and, say, metro Toronto police, Montreal police, Sûreté du Québec - that those lines of communication are actively open with those police forces among our police forces here? Am I correct in saying that?
MARK FUREY: Absolutely. There’s a very strong work relationship here in Nova Scotia between the RCMP and Halifax Regional Police service, and a very strong work relationship between the human trafficking coordinator’s office here with coordinators in many other provinces, not just Ontario.
TIM HALMAN: Minister, going back to the number that you indicated, $497,000 - was it guns and gangs? - could you give me a breakdown as to where that money is allocated? How many people would be devoted to that, and would you be able to give a breakdown of where that money goes?
MARK FUREY: Some of that money is directed - obviously, some support of the resources, but in addition to that, the ability to build and leverage unique federal expertise and resources to advance the intelligence element of that. The intelligence component is critical to police and law enforcement’s ability to identify both victims - those who are being trafficked within these behaviours - and those who are controlling those within the behaviour. A lot that is toward intelligence and the work relationships that you spoke about earlier.
TIM HALMAN: Do we know how many are being trafficked from Nova Scotia? Do we have a figure on that?
MARK FUREY: I don’t have specific numbers. The most recent numbers we had came from the Statistics Canada work, but we could certainly retrieve that document to identify those numbers.
TIM HALMAN: Do you believe that $497,000 allocated in this budget is sufficient to combat human trafficking?
MARK FUREY: I could look at any budget line and say there’s never enough money. I believe this is a very good investment in our efforts to enhance and support the work we’re doing. There are a number of initiatives ongoing. There’s a program with the YMCA that helps engage those who are involved in human trafficking or are at risk of going to human trafficking.
As I alluded to earlier, more money will be coming in from an arrangement agreement that we made with the federal government. From the Additional Officer Program that you referred to earlier, we have two FTEs, or two full-time equivalent positions - I believe one RCMP and one Halifax Regional, but I stand to be corrected on that - who are dedicated to human trafficking.
TIM HALMAN: Could you clarify how many FTEs within the Department of Justice are devoted to this file of human trafficking?
MARK FUREY: Specific to resources in the Department of Justice that are dedicated to human trafficking, the Executive Director of Public Safety and Security is directly linked to and responsible for the Department of Justice’s role in engaging our partners, not only here in the province but across the country. The Director of Crime Prevention also has a direct role in providing support and expertise to our law enforcement community, to those who are victimized, and to the community at large, who look to preventive measures, education, and awareness indicators of these types of behaviours.
Of course, we have a number of police and consultants within the province who, on behalf of the Department of Justice, are responsible as liaison to our law enforcement community, both municipal police and RCMP, as well as the training that would be available to be administered and facilitated with our law enforcement community.
TIM HALMAN: Could the minister outline if there are any plans for the Department of Justice to work with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to develop information, resources, and programming to talk to our youth about human trafficking? Are there any plans in the works to develop programming to alert our youth to the dangers of this?
MARK FUREY: When I talk about the guns and gangs initiative and the announcement that will be forthcoming, one of the key pieces of those initiatives and the priorities of guns and gangs is not restricted to the Department of Justice. It would be a horizontal relationship not only with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in addressing the points you’ve identified but with Community Services and other government departments that would have or could have a role in addressing and responding to this particular issue. It would not be restricted to a relationship between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, but a horizontal responsibility and engagement with multiple departments to ensure that we’re all contributing to those outcomes.
TIM HALMAN: Am I correct in saying, as it pertains to this very important issue, that there’s open communication between the departments? I guess the big concern for a lot of people is the silos. Am I correct in saying that there’s active dialogue and discussion to coordinate the various government resources to combat this?
MARK FUREY: Absolutely. I think there are two additional areas that will play a key role in this, and do as we speak, quite frankly. Our SchoolsPlus program across the province, and the interaction they have with adolescents - you would be very familiar with the SchoolsPlus program - and the School Safety Resource Officers. A number of them from the Additional Officer Program - I believe in excess of 30 of those FTEs from that program - are fulfilling that role in the schools. That is a very valuable role in building relationships with our youth and our educators, getting to know those communities.
This is not limited to HRM. That is the unfortunate part of this. I talk to parents every day in my community, and I have for 40 years now, about the risks of their child or children being exposed to these circumstances. Parents are flabbergasted to think that the recruiting would take place in rural Nova Scotia at rural exhibitions and community events that we all attend as families. That’s the reality of where we find ourselves.
To me, the School Safety Resource Officers are a critical piece of this discussion and part of that education element that I know you are focused on. The other element to this that is valuable is the restorative justice unit, which can serve as an educational element or opportunity within our schools, specific to human trafficking.
Your point and concern around a siloed approach - I am very comfortable with the relationships that we’ve established both within government and outside of government as we advance the guns and gangs initiative and the federal partnership that will be announced later this month. I think to provide you a level of comfort, a priority for me is to ensure that this partnership must involve all the stakeholders, including the community, as we advance this work to try to mitigate the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to School Safety Resource Officers, that is an approach to policing that, while I was a teacher, I had great respect for. I know it’s often invaluable to the commanders supervising their officers. I know how important that is. I know how important it is to a school.
Do you see an expanded role for School Safety Resource Officers as it relates to human trafficking, but also in other areas? Does the department have plans to maybe expand on these roles, perhaps within schools and within communities?
MARK FUREY: At full transparency, full disclosure, I had the good fortune to fulfill one of those positions for a period of almost four years. I can appreciate and value how important that position is.
I’ll give you an example. I remember when we first set up this program. We looked to what was perceived to be a vulnerable community in our county, and I’ll be specific to New Germany and New Germany Rural High School. It was really a lack of police presence in the community that led to the mistrust and uncertainties that individuals and communities experience when they don’t have frequent interaction with the police. It was often said the only time you saw a police car in the school parking lot was when there was a problem and, unfortunately, that was true. You would know as an educator.
Years ago, police would often be called in school to react and not necessarily respond appropriately. Over the course of a short period of time, working with the school administrator and discussing how we could break down those barriers and build relationships, often the relationship in the school community was between the uniformed officer and the principal or the vice-principal, and the vice-principal frequently as the disciplinarian in the school. Those were not good optics for students or staff - educators. In implementing that program, we actually implemented it through the guidance counsel.
There was no direct contact between the uniformed officer and the principal or vice-principal. The officer was given office space within the school, built a relationship with the guidance counsellor, and became a resource to the guidance counsellor. It wasn’t long before it was, in addition to that, participating in school events, graduations, sporting events, fundraisers in uniform and on time off, just taking that time to build those relationships. In a very short period of time, that program evolved to it’s great to see the police car in the parking lot. It wasn’t seen as a reaction or a response to inappropriate behaviours. It became the norm. That program expanded to provide support to families, to parents and siblings of youth, and to educators who turned to that resource within the guidance counsel to address their own circumstances.
I only give you that as an example to demonstrate the potential of opportunity that exists with the School Safety Resource Officers and, certainly, with SchoolsPlus and the School Safety Resource Officers and the connection between those two initiatives and the academic community in our public education system. I just see huge opportunities for the School Safety Resource Officers.
One of the other elements, the responsibility of that office, those positions is the emergency preparedness plan within the schools, as you would probably be familiar with. Every school is unique, and God forbid we ever experience those circumstances, but I had an old farmer tell me one time just do the five Ps and you’ll be fine. I thought what the hell are the five Ps? Prior preparation prevents poor performance. I never forgot that. That’s really one of the roles that the School Safety Resource Officer applies: those safety plans for those schools, which they rehearse. They do dry runs annually to ensure our students and youth are prepared, our educators are prepared should we ever experience those circumstances. There are many opportunities, and they will vary from school to school as you would be aware.
I only see we’re limited by our own imaginations when it comes to the services that a School Safety Resource Officer could provide in any one school, in any one community.
TIM HALMAN: I think communities have great respect for their School Safety Resource Officer and as an MLA, like you, I see a larger role for them within schools and communities, specifically combatting what we’ve been talking about: human trafficking.
Moving on to another topic, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss what will be happening in the Fall: the legalization of edibles. As a former teacher, in some cases, I saw some of the destructive impact drugs have on the development of our youth.
Back in January, when I met with some stakeholders in my community, when I met with the Dartmouth Community Health Board, they expressed concerns about the process by which we’ll go about legalizing edibles. We’re talking about process, concerns that this will not be a smooth transition.
I’m curious if you could outline what the plans are at this stage, in terms of preparing for the legalization of edibles. From what I’m hearing from members in my community, people want to make sure the packaging is correct, that THC levels are clearly indicated. As someone who has four little kids in my life now, I figure I’ll be completely bald by the end of the year. For the parents of this province it’s of great concern and, of course, ensuring the clear communication as to what the plan is. If you could outline: How much at this point is being allocated for the legalization of edibles, and what are the plans moving forward?
MARK FUREY: The total amount allocated in this budget is just above $3.5 million, which is a significant amount of money. Specific to the rollout where we are, as you would know, this legislation is being guided by the federal government. We’re still awaiting regulations from the federal government so that work continues, but we’re not waiting for the federal government. We know there are steps we can take, so we’ve looked at the options and mechanics of legalization of edibles. Quite frankly, it’s more complex than what I call Phase I of legalization of cannabis, recreational cannabis, retail cannabis.
We’ve done a lot of work, very consistent with our approach to legalization of cannabis. We’ve engaged those jurisdictions that have legalized edibles. We’ve looked at retail models and options. The same focus applies in the legalization of edibles. Our priority is our youth and public safety, to ensure we’re limiting or restricting access to edibles.
The reality with edibles is no different than the reality with what is described as illegal cannabis. Those products are there in an unregulated environment. The legalization of edibles, with the regulations that are forthcoming from the federal government, will allow the provinces to put a mechanism and a regime in place that will allow us to provide a safer product and packaging, to your point, that will restrict youth access. We anticipate that these are part of the regulations coming from the federal government. Packaging is a federal responsibility, as you know, much as it was in Phase I. The determined level of THC in a product is determined through the federal government and Health Canada, so those are limitations that will be put in place - restrictions, regulations - to really guide the provinces in how we implement the retail model and tie a bow around that as to what that will look like in the province.
We continue to work on that. Bob Purcell and his team continue to move that file. We meet weekly, so I’m updated on the status of that and I’m confident, come October, that Nova Scotia will be well positioned for Phase II as we were with Phase I.
When I go back to Phase I, there was a lot of noise, if I may say that, around legalization of cannabis: those who opposed it, those who supported it, privatization, retail, and public retail. We did a lot of work, and a lot of the foundational work for Phase I is important in Phase II as we roll out edibles.
I said it then and I say it now: it’s not a race. Some made it a race. We were very methodical about legalization in Phase I, and we’re taking the same approach to the legalization of edibles here in Phase II.
TIM HALMAN: I would challenge the assertion that it was methodical. Just by way of example, I know last year during Phase I, I asked the Minister of Finance what education programs were going to be put in place. It was indicated to me that there would be education programs for NSLC workers to learn about the product, but nothing allocated for education within Education and, in other words, as we were going about legalization in Phase I, there wasn’t money allocated to develop new programming within our schools, there didn’t seem to be a partnership between Justice and Education.
I think Phase I provided an opportunity for everyone to learn some lessons. I have no doubt there were some aspects that were methodical. However, I think there were some viable lessons that could have been learned as we enter Phase II with edibles. I’m curious: What lessons were learned by the Department of Justice? What will they do differently to make Phase II a smoother transition for Nova Scotians as we move towards legalization?
MARK FUREY: There are three elements you touched on, and I want to respond to each of those separately. You made reference to the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation workers. There was a very extensive training program within the NSLC. They contracted out to a subject-matter expert, and all their employees who wanted to or were willing to work in that environment were trained.
The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation social policies and the training that their staff, their team have relative to the retail of alcohol, they have provided and met a similar level of training, experience, and knowledge in speaking about the cannabis products. I’ve heard from many Nova Scotians, both in my constituency and here in HRM. I’ve gone into the retail stores and I’ve talked to customers. If there’s a single comment that has been most apparent, it has been the quality of training and knowledge of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation employee team and membership. It’s reassuring to know Nova Scotians have confidence in the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation’s delivery of the retail model.
The other element you mentioned was in the area of public campaign. About $600,000 was expended in a progressive public campaign, the Nova Scotia element to that, which was both fluid and complemented other elements of public awareness by other agencies, organizations, and the federal government.
We were very pleased with the feedback and the results of that public campaign. The hits on the website were significant. There were more than 13 million impressions, more than 44,000 site visits directly from the digital campaign, more than 13,000 social engagements, and more than 878,000 completed video views. That’s not clicking on it, seeing it’s cannabis, and turning it off. That’s 878,000 people going on and watching the full video. We were very pleased with the feedback on the public campaign.
I’ve talked to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development about the education element, and you and I would both know that within the existing curriculum there is a drug awareness element. I just don’t remember the name of the course. I think it may be Grade 9, I’m not sure. (Interruption) Healthy Relationships. It wasn’t specific to cannabis, but it speaks in a broader context.
It wasn’t restricted to public schools Primary to Grade 12. There were monies expended for posters that were provided across universities, Nova Scotia community colleges, senior high schools, police, municipalities, and doctors’ offices.
There was a fact sheet sent home to parents about how to talk to their kids, and there was an online video element to that subject. There were digital ads across Access Nova Scotia centres, campaign materials through the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, bags, their health and safety digital platforms, and ads within the retail stores.
We were pleasantly surprised with the many varied approaches to public education and awareness and the feedback we received, to be honest with you, and confidence in the existing curriculum, our SchoolsPlus program, and our School Safety Resource Officers, that the education of our youth relative to the consumption of cannabis and/or edibles is well positioned. We will continue to monitor that to determine if there is any need for change.
TIM HALMAN: Within the topic of legalization of cannabis, does the minister know if there has been an increase in police arrests for those selling drugs? Are those arrests going up or down? Would he be able to comment on that: Since legalization, have you seen an increase in arrests of those selling drugs or a decrease?
MARK FUREY: I don’t have any numbers available with me. We could certainly make that request of our law enforcement community. I would say in general terms that I’ve talked to some of our police leaders, and there is continued focus and resources dedicated to the trafficking of illegal drugs. That hasn’t changed, and those resources stay in place. That is one of the roles of the additional officer program that they would maintain: the trafficking and possession over 50 grams.
The legislation allows for 30 grams in public and for personal use, but there still remains the element of trafficking or the illegal sales of cannabis.
I have talked to our police leaders about impaired driving by drugs, by cannabis. Of those I have spoken with, both here in HRM and other parts of the province, there has been no noticeable increase in convictions. As a matter of fact, Statistics Canada did a release not that long ago that has indicated that with their research of the first three or four months, there was no increase in the incidence of impairment by drug. The numbers were flat, were consistent, but I don’t have the specific numbers of charges for those who would be charged with trafficking, the sale of illegal drugs, available to me.
TIM HALMAN: Would you be able to comment whether there has been an increase in calls to Poison Control? That may be within the purview of the Department of Health and Wellness, but I was wondering if you would be able to comment on that: Have we seen an increase of calls to Poison Control since the legalization of cannabis?
MARK FUREY: I don’t have the numbers specific to the question you’ve asked. To your point, what we are aware of specifically with the legalization of edibles and our discussions with other jurisdictions - and as you would know, acknowledged by the task force on the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada - there are concerns. This is what makes the legalization of edibles a little more complex; there are concerns around over consumption, there are concerns around accidental ingestion, and there are concerns around the contamination and food-borne illnesses in the production of edible products.
I think that ties into the point of your question: Has there been an increase? At this point those are circumstances that we’re aware of, conscious of, in the legalization of edibles. Much of that comes back to packaging. It comes back to secure packaging. It comes back to secure production facilities, and a separation of production. A discussion is happening whether it should be separated, or if it can be combined with other existing facilities. Those areas of responsibility will come out of federal regulations, packaging, sealing, and that type of thing.
TIM HALMAN: There are so many topics to discuss. We’ve looked at cannabis, we’ve certainly looked at Boots on the Streets, and I’d like to switch gears to the Wortley report. Our colleague, the House Leader for the NDP, was present for that report, as well as the minister. That report was, I believe, a big moment in the history of our province. Where Professor Wortley presented the report, the minister committed to a timeline of May, asking for an action plan from various stakeholders.
Once that report is presented to the minister, what timeline will you establish once you have received that report? Will you commit to a timeline by mid-May to communicate to Nova Scotians what the path is moving forward with respect to street checks?
MARK FUREY: I think what’s most important for me as we continue the work around the response to the Wortley report is effective and timely communication. I’m committed to timely communication on these discussions going forward. We continue to meet daily in the department on next steps. I’ve asked the coalition, the Human Rights Commission, the law enforcement community, the communities affected and the youth from those communities, Department of Justice staff, and African Nova Scotian Affairs staff to provide me with a short-term, mid-term, and long-term plan. Each of those elements would have varied timelines, and it will be the work of that group in response to the two options and the recommendations inherent to each option that will have timelines attached to them.
I think there’s an opportunity to move quickly on some things, some things will take a longer period of time. I’m committing to effective, timely communication. I think it would be premature of me at this time to attach a timeline to any one of the outcomes - short, medium, or long term - that this working group will provide me.
TIM HALMAN: Moving on to some other topics, with respect to cyberbullying and victim supports, you indicated in your opening remarks that many are requesting the restorative justice approach as it pertains to cyberbullying. Are we keeping data to track those instances where individuals are the restorative justice route, do we have data on that?
MARK FUREY: I safely say yes, we are. I had indicated earlier some numbers of those who have used or accessed the program. I just want to make sure I have the most up-to-date information. Since the legislation was proclaimed in July 2018, we’ve had 120 complaints. Approximately 74.5 per cent of those closed cases have been resolved informally through the CyberScan intervention; 89 of the 120 have been resolved. To your question, yes, we are keeping data on that service.
TIM HALMAN: You indicated that restorative data is a comprehensive and successful approach. How is success measured when it comes to this? How do we know that this has been a successful outcome for the parties involved? Can the minister describe that?
MARK FUREY: There are surveys being conducted to monitor the effectiveness of the presentations thus far, showing a positive response for eight of about 92 per cent, with over 92 per cent of youths completing the survey indicating that the presentation has made them reconsider their online safety and behaviours, and that they will utilize techniques that they’ve learned from the presentation. There is high response, high participation, and high indication that they’re taking valuable information away from those presentations.
TIM HALMAN: On to another topic - I’d like to take some time to discuss the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. As you know, there has been a series of reports since last year about the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. There have been inmates who have passed away; there have been reports of equipment not functioning properly; there have been stories about a lack of sanitation and maintenance; and there have been concerns raised about the safety of corrections staff and that the Burnside jail has moved to a direct supervision model. I was wondering if the minister could provide us an update: Where do things stand on the move to direct supervision?
MARK FUREY: The renovations of all areas for direct supervision are complete. There’s still some minor work to do specific to painting. The integrations unit, which is a new element of the corrections service delivery to address close confinements, will be running a little behind schedule but should soon be completed. It’s well on its way to being operational, just not quite there yet.
I do want to take this opportunity to speak briefly about direct supervision. It’s an environment where our corrections team is working with and embedded in those units with those who find themselves as residents there. It has been found to create stronger relationships between corrections officers and inmates, residents - some people are offended by terminology, my intent is not to offend anybody, just so we know who we’re talking about - and it has demonstrated improved behaviours in those environments.
This is seen as a best practice across North America. Many other jurisdictions have gone to direct supervision. Direct supervision was first introduced in the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, under a previous government, with the new construction of that facility in Pictou County. That model has worked well in Northeast, and the renovations were a follow-up. The renovations at Central are a follow-up, and we believe through transition and training and experiences that this is a heightened level of comfort and outcomes from the direct supervision model.
TIM HALMAN: Are the concerns we’re hearing regarding Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility unique to that institution, or are similar issues occurring at other facilities?
MARK FUREY: I’m sorry, I missed the first part of the question.
TIM HALMAN: Are the concerns that we’re hearing about Burnside unique to Burnside? Are you hearing similar issues occurring at other facilities throughout Nova Scotia, or is that just unique to Burnside?
MARK FUREY: They’re not unique to Burnside. Burnside is the largest of our facilities, so the numbers certainly would be in proportion to the population and they’re not unique to Nova Scotia. These are circumstances that exist within our corrections facilities across the country and across the continent.
There are a number of initiatives within corrections that are intended to mitigate many of these inherent risks to that environment. The Transition Day Room is an example where those individuals who don’t meet the criteria for the forensic facility and a risk to their placement in the general population provides an option with enhanced services around education, health care, training, and response specific to their individual needs. The Transition Day Room is seen as a model in the country. Our senior managers in corrections most recently travelled to Montreal to speak at a National Conference on Corrections, and they spoke of and explained the Transition Day Room and the value it brings to that environment.
In my opening comments, I spoke about the additional resources that are available. These are the areas that these resources are being directed, and it is intended to enhance the opportunity of training and reintroduction into the community. We’re seeing some very good outcomes from the Transition Day Room.
TIM HALMAN: That essentially concludes my line of questioning for this hour. I’ll continue with that line of questioning in the time that I get later on.
I want to thank the minister for his responses. I now pass it on to my colleague.
THE CHAIR: It’s now on to the NDP.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you for your extensive opening. I know that the department touches many areas, so it’s good to hear about all the activities going on. Some of my questions may repeat some of what you provided, just because we’re referring to the budget documents and things like that, so bear with us.
I want to start by picking up on this last conversation about direct supervision. I’ve heard many times when I toured the Burnside facility with the minister, and subsequently, that direct supervision is a model in North America. I guess I’ve always had this question about whether that’s the model we want to be looking at. I know that some of the senior corrections staff have toured different facilities in the U.S. and have seen where it’s worked, but from where I sit the correctional system in the U.S. is one of the worst things going actually.
There is a disproportionate number of people incarcerated in the United States compared to other countries. Much of that system is for-profit, and there are any number of horror stories coming out of that particular mode of incarceration. I think we have a long way to go in Canada, but I think we could say we’re probably doing better. I guess my question is: Why is that the model we are looking at when we look to modernize and improve our prison system?
MARK FUREY: There would be different factors or beliefs relative to why this model is the right model. There is a belief that human interaction between those who occupy this space or this facility and their interaction with those who work there is generally a good experience.
Certainly, a key to good health is socialization and interaction, demonstrated to reduce incidents or altercations within that environment where members of corrections are present. That modelling of positive interaction sees better outcomes than the isolation.
I can’t speak to the extent of the work that was done when this was implemented under a previous government. The Northeast facility in that budgeted government approval, located in Pictou County, was the model that was deemed to be the most progressive. I would say to your point, it varies from the models in the U.S. in how it’s delivered and how it’s applied, and with that confidence in this model of delivery, direct supervision, additional approvals to renovate the Central facility in Burnside to provide the same environment and to the belief of many, not only here in Nova Scotia within corrections but across the country, a best practice in the opportunities to rehabilitate and reintroduce these individuals back into society with training, skill sets, and experience.
As I indicated earlier, the partnership with the community college has actually seen positive outcomes of individuals building their skills, becoming valuable contributors to the community, and the rate of recidivism going down and not returning to these locations.
My experience as a police officer, to be honest with you, is that many people, whether they were youth at the time and exposed to the restorative justice model or whether they were adolescents and exposed to the criminal court, working with them to provide services and opportunities to minimize their sentences, probations, and conditional matters that would free them of a criminal record, even working with offenders when they return to the community, I see direct supervision as a much better model than what I was exposed to and saw over the first 35 years of my experience in the criminal justice system.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you for that answer and that whole second part obviously. I think what we’re all striving for is to reduce recidivism and have people not come back once they leave, have people be supported, have people have programming, but can you draw a direct connection to all those things and direct supervision? For instance, are you seeing better outcomes around Central’s population because they’ve had that particular model, than you are in other places where there isn’t that model?
MARK FUREY: Specific to incidents of assaults at Central, the data we have is that the actual numbers of assaults have increased, but the seriousness of those assaults have decreased. That’s because of the early intervention and the presence of corrections officers, their ability to intervene, and their ability to de-escalate those confrontations.
I’ll be specific to assaults on offenders; that’s the terminology used. It’s pretty consistent from 2014-15 fiscal year where there were 125 incidents down to 96 in the 2015-16 fiscal; there were 112 in each of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal years; and 131 in the 2018-19 fiscal. There was a decrease in the middle years but an increase back up to similar numbers from 2014-15.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: We do have other questions, but just to go back to my original question - I know that this change to the direct supervision model at Burnside has been an issue with staff, and I think we could ask an hour’s worth of questions about that, but I am more specifically asking about the minister’s previous comments that this direct supervision model is somehow correlated with better outcomes to the inmates who are subject to it.
You spoke about less recidivism, better integration in communities, and your partnership with the community college. I am wondering if there is actually a correlation there - not incidents inside, but incidents outside.
MARK FUREY: With the rollout of direct supervision in Central, there is no data to indicate to your point outside, if these are the types of outcomes confirmed by numbers. I think it is a little early in the delivery of direct supervision at Central, but I am encouraged by the partnerships and supports that are being provided within the environment that did not previously exist. I think the direct supervision, as I see it and understand it, creates a better opportunity to provide these types of supports in that environment where you can have health care and educators come in to the facility and actually provide those services. It wasn’t always like that.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I was just sort of trying to get to that connection which I felt like you were drawing, so once there is data, that would be great to see. But I will move on, and since we are talking about corrections, maybe I will continue in that vein and ask a few questions about close confinement.
We filed a freedom of information request that we received recently. One of the pieces of information we received was a background paper that was advice to the minister from October 2018, entitled Policy Options for the Oversight of Administrative Close Confinement in Nova Scotia’s Adult Correctional Facilities. The document reviews the principles set out in the Mandela Rules, which I know we have discussed in the room and other places, the UN Convention Against Torture, and the various Canadian constitutional challenges before the courts. It probably does not discuss the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision, but presumably that would be in the same vein.
It goes on to review the Correctional Services policy on administrative close confinement and concludes that these policies are “. . . the antithesis of best practices in the oversight of administrative close confinement.” The next section of the document is redacted on the grounds that it constitutes advice to the minister.
I am wondering if you can comment on this statement that our policies regarding administrative close confinement are the antithesis of best practices in this area.
MARK FUREY: We’re looking at all options when it comes to close confinement. We’ve seen a significant reduction in the incidence and time length of close confinement. As we speak on Recommendation 7 of the AG’s Report recommendations, we’ve made some progress in oversight both through audits and training, the programming specific to recreation availability for those in close confinement.
I spoke earlier about the addition of FTEs for program services. That’s part of what’s being provided, and we’re in the process now. I anticipate in the near future the integration unit will be operational, and it’s another option to close confinement that will further reduce the use of administrative close confinement.
We continue to work on this particular area, conscious of all the circumstances around us, both challenges within the courts and human rights requirements. I’m confident that the Integration Day Room is going to make a significant difference in the rates of administrative close confinement.
To give a comparison of where we were and where we are, when the deputy minister was before Public Accounts in October, there were 40 individuals of 431 in close confinement. As of today, there are 10 individuals in close confinement. Some would argue 10 is too many. With the steps we’re taking, I think we’re seeing a reduction in these numbers, and we’re confident that the Integration Day Room will make another difference in how we manage this particular area of our correctional facilities.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: That’s a startling reduction, and that’s great to hear. I think, though, that there’s still this question lingering, particularly from these documents we received, about the specific policies around close confinement. Acknowledging that the day room and other programs may diminish the need for it, there are still seemingly some glaring issues around the application and development of our own policy.
Another piece of this package was a July 2018 snapshot of close confinement. At that time, 21 individuals were in close confinement around the province but only 12 had undergone the 24-hour review that was required in the policy. This policy itself has been questioned in the advice to the minister, but it also doesn’t seem that the policy, at least in July 2018, was being routinely followed. At that time, 12 of 21 individuals in close confinement had undergone the required 24-hour review. That’s troubling, frankly; that’s just about half or a little bit more than half. This is something that’s required by policy. Can you comment on why that would have been the case?
MARK FUREY: Compliance with policy is critically important. One of the things we identified in the work that we’re doing in response to the Auditor General’s recommendation, January audit, identifies a 92 per cent compliance rate in this particular area where we were 67 per cent this past Summer and this past Fall. I think those numbers are consistent with what you’ve identified.
I mentioned in my opening comments about additional resources in corrections. One of them is the inspector position, and the priority of that inspector is to monitor and ensure that the policies of corrections are being adhered to and applied properly. We’ve seen a need for that and, quite frankly, the reason we created the inspector’s position is I needed to know there was oversight and expectation and compliance. It’s important that we’re at the rate we’re at and that we stay there.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: It’s good to see that percentage ticking up. Without belabouring this point, because this data is older, I’ll say that there was an even more troubling trend that emerged with five-day reviews. I just referenced the one-day review. Of those 21, a five-day review had been completed for four, but there were 13 more who ought to have had a five-day review completed. Assuming your answer will be the same, I won’t put that to you but just note that those are troubling, and we hope to see better numbers.
The average number of days individuals spend in close confinement varies quite a bit across the correctional facilities. Based on the information we have at this point in time, the average in Cape Breton was about 2.6 days. It was about one day in Southwest, nine days in Northeast, and 26.6 days at Central; we know that there are so many people on remand in Central. The majority of the prison population at any given time is often not convicted of a crime. Can you speak as to why the number of days spent in administrative close confinement are so much higher there?
MARK FUREY: Two of the larger contributing factors to the high numbers is the population at Central, and if I can use the language of a perfect storm, with the renovations that necessitate a higher demand on resources within the institution, within the facility, to ensure safety of both inmates and staff.
With renovations it’s more confusing, it’s more challenging, greater risks. With the 10 that are presently in custody today, eight of them are in close confinement. Eight of them are there of their own volition; they are asking to be there for their own safety. Those are three factors that contribute to the high number, time frame there, versus the other facilities that you speak about.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I acknowledge that that may be the case, that people may ask to be in administrative close confinement for their safety, but surely, we ought to have another way to protect their safety. I would suggest that’s not a great statement on the situation in our correctional facilities if the only way someone can be safe is to be locked inside a very small cell for most of the day. In fact, this pattern exists in disciplinary close confinement, too, where that wouldn’t be an issue.
In that same set of data we saw that the average stay in what we would normally call solitary, that people would be put in close confinement for their behaviour, the average in Cape Breton would be four and a half days; Southwest, one day; six days in Northeast; and 18.7 days in Central.
From where I sit, it seems that renovations aside, in part of the planning for those renovations, there ought to be a way to ameliorate this issue. As I started with this line of questioning, it’s our contention and seemingly the contention of many people in the department, based on these documents and many of the courts of this country, in fact, and internationally, that close confinement, particularly disciplinary close confinement, many would say it’s illegal just generally, that it’s a violation of human rights, that it’s a violation of international laws. Particularly when we see these high differentials in a specific facility it does raise a lot of red flags. Could the minister comment on that?
MARK FUREY: I think that’s why we are transitioning to the Integrated Day Room. We recognize there has to be another option, and that’s where we’re going. I’m hoping once this space is operational, we’ll see a reduction in these numbers. I don’t disagree with you.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I guess I’ll just say that I hope, when we have the chance to have this conversation again, that those numbers in particular at Burnside look a lot different than they do today because, just to put a finer point on it, I think that is very troubling. It also happens to be in Dartmouth, but that’s not particularly why I’m alluding to it. It is something that is physically close, and it is the place where the most people who are convicted of a crime end up.
Another note in that freedom of information request indicated that over a period of three months there were 624 instances of close confinement in adult correctional facilities.
Aboriginal people make up 6 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia, and 15 per cent of those are in correctional facilities, so we know they are overrepresented. We’ve also had this conversation before. They make up 7.5 per cent of those in close confinement in that period.
Could the minister speak to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people, both in correctional facilities in general and in close confinement?
MARK FUREY: We are aware of the overrepresentation of both our Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities when you look at the population, the percentage of the population, the general population, percentage of population in custody.
These are troubling circumstances, without question. It is much broader than what we are seeing, and it is about addressing the root causes of crime: Why are we seeing such high incidence?
Many of them are remand. We are working with our Aboriginal Justice Strategy, African Nova Scotian Affairs, our corrections team, and the Department of Justice on that broader discussion of overrepresentation in our justice system. I’ve said it before: these numbers are unacceptable.
It’s happened for many years, and we believe that with some of the strategies, some of the approaches we are taking, we will start to see a difference. This has to be community-based. The system has to support those individuals who are overrepresented in the general population.
With the Aboriginal community we are providing the cultural elements, sweat lodges, the opportunity for healing circles, and those types of things, while they are in custody, but this is a bigger discussion about what factors are contributing to those numbers in the first place. That’s a discussion that has to take place outside of our correctional facilities and respond in a way that we see change.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: On that point we agree, for sure. I am hoping we will get to that conversation more in here, probably not entirely right now, maybe tomorrow - not tomorrow, Monday.
Before we leave this topic, you mentioned the overrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in your opening. You also talked about some of the systemic issues and that they are broad. The statistics for African Nova Scotians are actually much worse, as the minister knows.
The African Nova Scotian population is about 2 per cent, but 24 per cent of those are incarcerated and 8.6 per cent of the adults were in close confinement over the three- month period that we were looking at. Yes, there are many other issues. Can the minister comment on what some of those issues are? Many of the issues would fall under the purview of the Department of Justice, so maybe not specifically Corrections. Why are we seeing this drastic overrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in our correctional facilities?
MARK FUREY: The biggest contributing factor to the overrepresentation is in the area of remand, as you would know. When you drill down into remands, obviously our correctional facilities are required to manage the volume of remands we’re seeing come out of the courts. The contributing factors to those remands are the conditions that are attached. With extensive extreme conditions we’re seeing people breach those and for circumstances arrested, detained, and incarcerated again.
The Criminal Justice Transformation Group is looking at remands as their priority, so the Criminal Justice Transformation Group is basically a group of leaders within the criminal justice system right from the judiciary down through prosecutors, Legal Aid, and others who are looking at options to remand. One of the options being advanced is around bail suspensions for conditions attached to bail. I always said that if you are going to set an objective, make sure it’s attainable.
I think the same methodology has to apply here. If we’re releasing people on bail conditions, there’s a need to protect, maintain public safety, but these are administrative breaches. Is it necessary to then detain in custody going forward? I think it’s a discussion that’s topical right now with the Criminal Justice Transformation Group. I think where we will see the most significant movement in these numbers is if we can address the processes around remand.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Who sits on the Criminal Justice Transformation Group?
MARK FUREY: The Criminal Justice Transformation Group is chaired by the Deputy Minister of Justice. Those who participate as members of that committee are the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, the executive director for the Public Prosecution Service, executive director for Nova Scotia Legal Aid, a senior official with the Canadian lawyers association, the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network - MLSN - and I believe three representatives from the chiefs of police.
They’re all part of the remand process, and it’s important those individuals are at the table because it will only be changed within that environment that has an impact on numbers of remands or the percentage of remands or the overrepresentation that we’re seeing when it comes to both African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaw community members.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I know there are probably other fora probably where this is discussed. I think there is a social deputies table. There are some other places where these issues - but one of the things I hear a lot at a constituency level, but also in this area, is the impact. Anyone involved in criminal justice knows the sort of slippery slope impact of these kinds of minor infractions, whether it’s a breach or anything else: someone breaches, they get sent back, they lose their apartment, they get out, they’re homeless, they breach, and so on.
I just wonder whether you have anyone from the social service universe. I made a comment today in my response to the Financial Measures Act to say that while the government has been great at cutting red tape in the financial and business areas, they haven’t been great at cutting red tape in our social service delivery. We see a lot with housing, with income assistance - the profound challenges that this pattern of breaching conditions in remand can have, because as soon as someone gets their feet under them, they lose it. Then they’re trying to build it from scratch again, often without a safety net.
I guess I wonder, are there places where those silos are being broken down? The impact on individuals’ lives is at the centre of the conversation around the approach to these conditions and whatnot. How do we simplify and approach the remand issue that you describe?
MARK FUREY: The Criminal Justice Transformation Group have undertaken a number of responsibilities. Remand being one of them, the Jordan decision being another - the work they’re doing is specific to these areas. I’ll just give you an example. When it comes to their focus on the Jordan decision, which was timely, we’ve seen about a 30 per cent reduction in cases just through the work of the Criminal Justice Transformation Group. I use that as an example to demonstrate the value of that group coming together.
To your question around remands and what role the Department of Community Services would play, although they’re not part of the Criminal Justice Transformation Group, they are part of the social deputies that contribute to your point - another forum that contributed to these discussions - and they do meet and speak about overrepresentation of African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq.
They do speak about and identify initiatives that could help address this overrepresentation. I think that’s more the holistic discussion to our earlier point. The numbers are the outcomes; they’re the results of other factors that are contributing to that. They certainly have a presence, but they haven’t been a member of the Criminal Justice Transformation Group.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I noticed there was an increase in all the budget lines for Correctional Services, and we’ve discussed some of the reasons why and what those are for, but Waterville had a big decrease, the Nova Scotia Youth Facility and its funding.
I’m aware, based on conversations and my own visit to the facility with the minister, that it’s at this point underutilized seemingly, so maybe there’s something there. Could the minister break down for me a little bit why that reduction in funding is so significant and whether there’s a breakdown in staffing or programming?
MARK FUREY: I can break down the reduction in budget that my colleague has identified, and it is directly related to the underutilization of that facility.
There was a reassignment of resources that make up the $833,000 reduction: $245,000 was a transfer of three FTEs to the Burnside facility; $174,000 came from the transfer of two FTEs to Corrections administration; $80,000 came from a transfer of 1.4 resources to courts; another $80,000, one resourced to Northeast; another resource in the amount of $80,000 to Public Safety; $145,000 to reallocation; and $29,000 for wage adjustment. That’s 8.4 FTEs in total.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Can you confirm if there was any reduction as a result of the transfer of those resources of programming at the facility, or was it just the staffing and FTEs?
MARK FUREY: Just the staffing. There was no reduction in programs.
Mr. Chair, can we take two minutes for nature to run its course?
THE CHAIR: Yes, sure.
[2:39 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[2:43 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I want to ask a few questions about Public Safety and Security, so Page 15.8 of the budget document. There’s an increase for Municipal Policing Support. Is that related to cannabis, or is there another reason for the increase in that line?
MARK FUREY: The element my colleague is talking about is a transfer from the RCMP program to rightsize the budget, as the Additional Officer Program budget itself needed to be topped up. It’s a transfer of money.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Could you explain that a little more? A transfer from whom to whom for what?
MARK FUREY: If we’re referring to the same amount, $546,000 was a reduction in the provincial police contract with the RCMP, money that was transferred to the AOP program where municipal police services would be the benefactor.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I’m still learning all the acronyms and transfers.
The budgets for Crime Prevention and First Nations Policing Program are higher. I think you spoke a little bit about that in your opening, maybe, but if you could talk about those numbers specifically, that would be helpful - in particular, why the increases were required and what they represent. Are they staffing? Or programming? Where’s that money going?
MARK FUREY: The amount we’re speaking to is $378,000, and $250,000 of that is the provincial share of funding related to the Government of Canada’s announcement for an additional 110 new First Nations policing officers across the province, so this would be our portion. The remaining $128,000 is the province’s portion of two additional officers where we pay 48 per cent of the First Nations contract.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: In the line for Specialized Policing Services, there’s quite a dramatic increase. Can you talk about why that was required and what it represents?
MARK FUREY: Of the $3.33 million: $2.5 million is funding support for Canada’s legalization and regulation; $497,000 is funding for guns and gangs; and $319,000 is for a biological caseworker, for DNA analysis with forensic laboratories.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I assume you mean combatting guns and gangs and not guns and gangs. (Interruption) I appreciate the breakdown, though.
Probably the last question I will have time for is around restorative justice. We’ve seen an increase. The minister spoke in the opening about the commitment to restorative justice. We were, of course, involved in dialogue when those community justice workers were on strike last year.
Are there additional - I’m assuming that line item is entirely just funding to the Community Justice Society. Could the minister point out if there were any other ways that that money is being used?
MARK FUREY: The increase of $395,000 - there was an additional amount of just over $500,000 for the salary contract increases. There was a transfer of one FTE to Public Safety into the Restorative Justice Coordinator position. That was eliminated for creation of a consultant position. That was an amount of $101,000 reduction and a $5,000 reduction in operating, so it gives us the balance of a $395,000 increase.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Could the minister talk about why the decision was made to eliminate the FTE in favour of a consultant?
MARK FUREY: I guess the language I used wasn’t the appropriate language. It’s a movement of the position, really. The reduction in the FTE within the restorative justice environment transferred to Public Safety, but doing the same job in Public Safety.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: It’s a little tricky to ask about funding for restorative justice because of the structure. We discovered that during the labour impasse last year, because the government funds the Community Justice Society, who pay the wages. Notwithstanding that, so maybe anticipating a response, my understanding is that those Community Justice Societies are 100 per cent funded by government; therefore, that funding of government dictates what they’re able to do around personnel.
One of the main issues in that strike was wages. Many of the restorative justice workers pointed out that they do substantially or close to the same job that probation officers do, but they were making a fraction of what those probation officers were making.
Do you have any information about what the average wage is now for a restorative justice worker, now that that labour impasse has been solved, and how that compares to the wage of a probation worker in this province?
MARK FUREY: The average wage for a caseworker in restorative justice is $45,000 now. I don’t know, to be honest, what a probation officer’s is. The deputy just showed me a number here in the area of $75,000, but I would say that’s one of the points where we have disagreed, that in an analysis of the two jobs - restorative justice caseworker and probation officer - they are not identical. There are different roles and responsibilities associated to the job descriptions.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: That’s clear, given the wage differential. Reflecting on the minister’s comments about the importance of restorative justice and then subsequent comments in our discussion around Corrections, about the importance of reducing recidivism, of finding ways to break the patterns of engagement in the criminal justice system, I think it’s been proven - and I think Nova Scotia is a leader in the restorative justice efforts. But the turnover in that job is remarkable, even to the point that many of the people who were on the picket line in that labour dispute are no longer employed with restorative justice. When you have that level of turnover, you also lose the expertise and ability in those roles.
We can agree to disagree on whether they’re substantially the same as probation officers or not, but I think we probably would agree that they’re very important.
Are there other efforts, outside of wages, that the minister, or his department, is undertaking to ensure that we can recruit and retain qualified staff in those roles and that we don’t continue this kind of treadmill of the loss of institutional knowledge?
MARK FUREY: I first want to highlight and agree with my colleague that both roles are very important in responding to the needs of those within the criminal justice system, whether it’s through the restorative justice lens or whether it’s those engaged with probation officers.
I think my colleague and I can agree to disagree that probation officers take on and fulfill additional roles over and above the responsibility of what restorative justice caseworkers do. That does not minimize the role and work of restorative justice, but there have been additional steps taken around training and electronics in supporting caseworkers in their workplace.
I’ve talked with caseworkers, and I’m not aware of the turnover . . .
THE CHAIR: Order. The time for the NDP questioning has elapsed. We are now on to the Progressive Conservative caucus for 27 minutes.
I’ve been informed by the Progressive Conservative caucus that the minister and his staff have done so well that they want you to come back Tuesday - or Monday, sorry. You will be finishing out today and then coming back next day.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
TIM HALMAN: That’s what we do. The Progressive Conservative caucus gives opportunities. There you go.
I’m learning a lot here. As you know, this is a new portfolio for me, so I’ve enjoyed listening. I’ve enjoyed the questions from my colleague, the member for Dartmouth South.
I’d like to return to the topic of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Last year, as you may recall, the Auditor General looked at correctional facilities, and he said that he made more recommendations in that audit that he had conducted up to that point - 12 in total.
My understanding is that we’re seeing a funding increase in the 2019-20 budget of $1.2 million. That’s an increase of about 1.6 or 1.7 per cent. Is any of that money targeted to address some of the areas identified in the AG’s Report, the 12 recommendations he made regarding the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility?
MARK FUREY: I do want to speak briefly to the AG’s recommendations and the timing of the AG’s review. The audit itself captured a period between April 1, 2015, and February 28, 2017. The report was tabled over a year later, in May 2018.
The AG’s Report recommendations were specific to things like close confinement, completing and documenting rounds, searches for contrabands, screening of newly hired officers, and training for recertification that was out of date. So for the most part, the recommendations were administrative in nature, and my understanding is that all of the recommendations will be completed by the end of May of this year.
For my colleague’s benefit, the amount he has referred to, $1.2 million, speaks to a wage adjustment for both union and non-union step increases; amortization adjustments for the direct supervision renovations; videoconferencing; body scanners in vehicles; recovery from the IWK for secure care at Waterville in the amount of $25,000; transfers from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development - that’s recoverable teachers in adult and youth correctional facilities, as well as the Halifax Youth Attendance Centre; and a transfer to Internal Services for Workplace Health and Safety annual operating costs in the amount of $17,000. That accounts for the $1.239 million.
TIM HALMAN: Since the Auditor General’s Report last year, could the minister describe how the training of our correctional officers has changed with respect to background checks and things of that nature?
MARK FUREY: One of the key elements to the training that was identified is that some of the training had expired, and that was where recertification was required. With the creation and funding of the new inspector position, this is one of the areas that the inspector will oversee to ensure that training is completed in a timely fashion. First and foremost there’s recertification, and then there’s ensuring that training is maintained and recertified before certification expires.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to the screening process for correctional officers, how has that changed? How has the hiring process changed? You’ve indicated, if I’ve understood you correctly, that at the end of May these recommendations will be fulfilled.
Can you describe how that screening process has changed? That was one of the highlights that the Auditor General’s Report had recommended that needs to fundamentally change.
MARK FUREY: In these circumstances, and specific to my colleague’s question, we undertook a complete review of all the human resources files for all our employees to ensure that there was appropriate documentation being used. Depending on which facility, there was different documentation being used, so there is consistency that has been brought to that HR process. We worked with the Public Service Commission to undertake that, and it is really about bringing consistency to that. Those initiatives were completed at the end of March, so it is really about bringing files up to date.
TIM HALMAN: There were 12 recommendations. I’d like to just go through the 12, and perhaps you can provide us with a summary as to where you are.
Recommendation 2.1 from the report talked about the need for a risk assessment framework. Currently, is there a risk assessment framework in place, and if so, is that the one that would be renewed or reformed? Can you give us an update on the risk assessment framework?
MARK FUREY: The risk assessment is actually in the final stages of completion. That will be done this week. We are working with Internal Services delivery on that, and the resulting risk assessment tool will be managed by the inspector.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to the performance management framework, where are you in the development of that?
MARK FUREY: The performance management framework, including a quality assurance process to assess the performance of provincial correctional facilities, has been completed.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to Recommendation 2.3, identifying staff who have not completed or recertified the required training, is it a 100 per cent target that you are trying to achieve by the end of May, that it is documented that everyone has received the proper training or are on path to get that recertification, if required? Could you provide an update to that, minister?
MARK FUREY: The training itself that’s required will be completed by the end of June of this year. There have been 73 training courses capturing 758 employees. Now, some of those are double numbers, in that an employee may take multiple courses. That process will be completed by the end of June.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to the training and recertification, who monitors that? Who oversees that to ensure accountability, like in any job or profession? Is there someone in the department who oversees that and monitors that?
MARK FUREY: Any and all operations within the department are the responsibility of the executive director. I referenced earlier the new inspector position to oversee these types of things that require attention, particularly around the expiry of training qualifications, and more directly, primary responsibility of a new training officer, a new position, that will be responsible to monitor this going forward.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to Recommendation 2.4, the annual performance evaluations for all correctional officers, what is the timeline for that? If you could comment on the criteria that are in those evaluations: What are supervisors looking for when they will conduct these annual performance evaluations of our correctional officers?
MARK FUREY: The performance evaluation - the performance document, if you want to call it that - is based on performance as well as developmental targets. An individual’s present performance, expectations with the job description, and then what developmental opportunities or needs may exist - that’s the methodology of the performance evaluation process.
There was HR training that took place in the Fall of 2018 to familiarize people with this. The process itself will take a little longer than originally planned to complete, but we anticipate it will be completed by this Fall.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to Recommendation 2.5, to consistently apply hiring processes, can you provide an update on that for our facilities? Well, let me ask this too: What are the current hiring processes, and what will be the change besides consistency, which I obviously think is imperative to any institution? Can you give an update on that?
MARK FUREY: Specific to Recommendation 2.5, this relates specifically to background checks and consistencies in the application of background checks. That has been achieved and that particular recommendation has been completed. There is now consistency across the board with regard to background checks.
TIM HALMAN: That’s reassuring to hear. As the minister knows, background checks and vulnerable sector searches are standard operating procedures for a lot of institutions and organizations. When I was a high school athletic director, any volunteer who came in who wanted to coach, that was a given.
What’s the time frame for those background checks? Are we expecting them every three years? Every five years? Could you clarify that?
MARK FUREY: The background checks, as we speak, are only completed upon hire.
TIM HALMAN: I want to understand correctly: completed upon hire, and then you commence your job, you do your job for 20-plus years - let’s say, hypothetically - a background check would not be necessary. Once it is done at the point of hiring, then no further background checks are required. Am I correct in saying that?
MARK FUREY: That’s correct in that it’s a one-time completion submission of the background check, but they do have a code of conduct that is found in many other professions where they have a duty to report a criminal charge or criminal conviction.
TIM HALMAN: That may be a point I’ll return to, but I want to keep moving along. I thank the minister for his patience. I just want an update on these recommendations.
For 2.7, close confinement needs to be properly approved, and there must be access to recreation and showers. Has that recommendation been completed at this point?
MARK FUREY: The recommendation itself is complete. This is about oversight of the close confinement policy and application, and this is a role that the new inspector is now responsible for.
TIM HALMAN: It indicated in the recommendation that it needs to be properly approved. Is that simply a matter of a supervisor signing off on that, or is there a formal process to attain that approval? Would you be able to outline what that process looks like as it pertains to close confinement?
It sounds like the end goal here is to try to have a formal procedure in place. I get the sense that there wasn’t one before. Perhaps a decision was made on the ground with respect to close confinement.
Could you describe that formal process to attain approval?
MARK FUREY: The approval is at the deputy superintendent level for 24-hour, five-day close confinement. For any period more than 10 days, it has to be approved by the Executive Director for Correctional Services. But I think to your point and the intended outcome, we’ve seen an increase for the 24-hour, five-day oversight from 67 per cent to 92 per cent compliance. That’s a strong indicator that the oversight now being provided is achieving its intended objectives.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to Recommendation 2.8, to work with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to document confining offenders for medical reasons, is that happening now? Are we documenting that, and what’s the process around that?
MARK FUREY: Yes, it is. It’s completed. This has been added to the audit schedule and another responsibility of the new inspector.
TIM HALMAN: In the recommendation, it indicates working with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. What did that mean? Who was the department working with, or what designated role were they working with with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to come up with that new policy? I’m just curious as to who they worked with.
MARK FUREY: It would be our corrections people - obviously leadership in the facility working with onsite representatives of the Health Authority. The Health Authority has agreed to provide the proper documentation, so it’s a pretty fluid process.
TIM HALMAN: Recommendation 2.9, that correctional officer duties, such as the completion of rounds and searches, are completed as required and that adequate documentation is maintained. Can you provide an update on that?
MARK FUREY: The oversight that’s now being provided to this particular recommendation and policy given the attention it obviously required, the overall provincial rating has gone up almost 11 per cent to 85.5 per cent since the October 2018 audit, so there’s marked improvement there and responsibility to the deputy superintendent to oversee that and ensure there is continued compliance.
TIM HALMAN: Recommendation 2.10, the Department of Justice should explore options with relevant parties within a larger justice system to ensure system-wide implications of intermittent sentences are understood and identify possible solutions for managing these offenders within correctional facilities. Could the minister provide us an update on that?
MARK FUREY: This particular item around intermittent sentences or remands is a challenge, and as I shared earlier with the member for Dartmouth South, one of the primary responsibilities, priorities of the Criminal Justice Transformation Group, is not something that Corrections can address or resolve by itself. It’s a system challenge that is going to necessitate every element of the criminal justice system contributing in their own way to manage the high use of remands. We’ll continue to be part of that working group and, with the efforts of the collective Criminal Justice Transformation Group, work towards solutions. It’s a challenge.
TIM HALMAN: It is Friday. I used to tell my students fun Friday. We have a minute left. I want to thank staff, and I want to thank the minister for providing some clarity to these questions. It’s very much appreciated. For someone who doesn’t necessarily have a legal background, I found this to be very informative, and I want to thank you for your time.
THE CHAIR: The time allotted for the Subcommittee on Supply has elapsed. We will see you all again soon. Have a great weekend, everyone.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 3:24 p.m.]