Letter from Minister Mark Furey:
NOVA SCOTIA Attorney General Justice Office of the Minister
PO Box 7, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3J 2L6
Telephone 902 424-4044, Fax 902 424-0510, novascotia.ca
Dear Sue and Stacey:
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you in Bridgewater to discuss the criminal justice system and its impact on survivors of gender-based violence. It was also nice to see you on July 16th at the Justice Society meeting.
Gender-based violence remains a serious issue in Canada, including Nova Scotia. I certainly appreciate the work you do in this area to build connections and improve systems to better meet the needs of survivors, families, and communities. The Nova Scotia government is committed to effecting change and your support in that work is much appreciated.
Several initiatives are currently underway within the Department of Justice and in the Province, to address some of the issues identified in the report you shared with me.
The Department of Justice has recently completed sexual assault audits on police with the goal to review police practices and to improve investigative outcomes. Two-day Trauma Informed Response training workshops are presently being delivered to numerous police agencies across the Province. A one-week sexual assault investigation course will be offered to police in July.
The Public Prosecution Service received additional funding and hired two prosecutors to provide dedicated and specialized resources to sexual assault prosecutions. In March, the Public Prosecution Service provided training for their Crown Attorneys on tools and best practices in relation to a trauma-informed approach to sexual assault prosecutions
We provide free legal advice, and representation in court, to survivors of sexual assault through the Department of Justice Victim Services program in situations where there has been an application by the accused for the production of medical, therapeutic, or counselling records in sexual assault trials.
As you know, we are very pleased with the recent launch of the Free Independent Legal Advice program for Sexual Assault Survivors. This program now has 18 private lawyers who have been specially trained to support and help survivors who are considering their options in terms of both criminal and civil processes, after a sexual assault. To date, 91 people have accessed this important service.
Victim Services chairs the Interdepartmental Committee on Intimate Partner Violence, a multi- disciplinary working group made up of child protection, the Public Prosecution Services, and others. This group hosts a specialized domestic violence education conference involving over 100 trainers representing the Departments of Justice and Community Services, police, and community partners such as the transition houses, Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network, and the men’s intervention programs. When new staff join the Department of Justice they are provided with core training on domestic violence.
The expansion of a Domestic Violence Court Program to Halifax builds on what we learned in Sydney and aims to be more responsive to the needs of survivors of domestic violence and develop, in consultation with community partners, meaningful interventions to end violence. Collaboration from the very early stages has been critical to this work, as you know. The Working Group is looking at ways to close the gaps in the sharing of critical information in cases of intimate partner violence that appear in multiple courts. Continued community-based collaboration to deliver appropriate supports and interventions is critical to the success of this program and I appreciate the time and energy you have devoted to its development over the last year.
Victim Services has created nine short online court preparation videos as well as 360 photo views of all courtrooms in Nova Scotia. Victims of gender-based violence will have the option to do a virtual courtroom tour and to prepare in a private and comfortable setting with minimal inconvenience and travel, so they can feel more at ease when attending court to give testimony. These resources will be readily available online within the next two months.
The development of online access to some services for survivors is underway. People will have an option to receive phone or email notifications to have faster and easier access to information about their court case, as well as to access other on-line supports at their convenience. We expect this option to be operational in the next six months.
The Criminal Injuries Counseling Program provides financial support for counseling to help victims of gender-based violence, and their children, deal with trauma associated with the crime. A woman can choose which counsellor best meets her needs and, if she has a counsellor that is not on Victim Services’ list but meets standard criteria, the program will work with her counsellor to register. Restoring choices is one of the essential elements of a trauma-informed approach and developing a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor of her choice is key to recovery.
Justice Canada has also established a Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials Working Group on Access to Justice for Adult Sexual Assault Victims. This group has been reviewing the challenges, barriers and best practices in relation to sexual assault cases across each of the provinces and territories, and will be reporting to the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Justice Ministers with recommendations on how to improve access to justice for victims of sexual assault in 2018.
Last year, the Department of Justice formed a Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Governance & Management Committee. In 2016, the province announced the implementation of the 4th phase of the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program (NSRJP) with the roll out of Adult RJ across the province. The Committee is a mechanism through which justice system and community partners and stakeholders can work together to meet their individual and shared responsibilities and take collective action to ensure better outcomes in the justice system.
As the Judiciary are an independent branch of government, we cannot mandate training for them. A Wellness Court Working Group, however, co-chaired by Chief Judge Williams and the Director of Mental Health and Addictions from the Nova Scotia Health Authority hosted information sessions on the subjects of trauma and gender-based violence for their members, delivered by the Tri-County Women’s Centre over the past few months. The National Judicial Institute, which provides continuing education to the judiciary in Canada, offers sessions on specialized subjects such as domestic violence and sexualized violence.
We are very proud that, since 2013, we have achieved gender parity on the Provincial and Family Court bench. I am also very pleased to note that one of our recent judicial appointments, the Honourable Diane McGrath in Sydney, was the Crown prosecutor for the DV Court Program in Sydney for many years. Another of her colleagues, the Honourable Anne Marie Mcinnis in
Sydney, also worked on the DV Court Program in Sydney when she was with Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Earlier this month the Honourable Chris Manning was appointed in Kentville. He was one of the lawyers in our Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors program. Such diversity of experience has a significant impact.
You asked me about the Criminal Justice Transformation Group when we met at the Justice Society meeting in Newcombville. This group is chaired by the Deputy Minister of Justice, Karen Hudson, QC. Its members include the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, provincial and federal prosecution services, NS Legal Aid, NS Criminal Lawyers’ Association, NS Barristers’ Society, the Chief of Halifax Regional Police, the Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP’s H-Division (which is responsible for NS), the President of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association, and Department of Justice senior leaders. This group’s primary focus for some time has been reducing unreasonable delays in the criminal justice system. The right to be tried within a reasonable time is one enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The longer a case takes to come to trial the longer a victim of crime waits for the experience to be over, so they can get on with their lives. And that can postpone their recovery and shake their faith in the justice system.
While focused efforts are being made to achieve improvements regarding gender-based violence in Nova Scotia, I know that there is more work to be done. I appreciate you providing a copy of your report and recommendations to me. I have shared it with staff in the department who are already working to address some of the issues which have been identified.
Thank you for your ongoing dedication and commitment in the important work that you do.