October 15, 2019 (K’jiuktuk – Halifax, NS) -This Tuesday at 6pm the Law Amendments Committee is meeting to discuss the proposed amendments to the Fatality Investigations Act. The Liberal provincial government is proposing significant amendments to the Act in the form of new review committees for deaths in domestic violence situations and of children in care of the province.
Although we support the spirit behind the changes, they are flawed in five critical respects:
1. Unlike in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, reviews will continue to be discretionary, not mandatory.
2. Although the amendments contemplate the development of specialized review committees for child deaths in care and domestic violence deaths, there is no comparable body for reviewing adult deaths in custody.
3. There are no procedural or truth-finding powers explicated in the Act regarding the review committees.
4. There are no provisions requiring either the work of the committee or their findings and recommendations to be made public.
5. There are no accountability mechanisms in place to ensure the government acts on the findings of the committees.
As a result, we expect that the committees will have no teeth, no independent adjudicator, no subpoena power, no cross examination as an option, and no mandatory release of information to the public. In summary, we expect the committee reviews to be legitimizing tools to rubber stamp internal investigations.
Together with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton, and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), East Coast Prison Justice is demanding three changes to the amendments which will enable them to more effectively achieve their stated goal of preventing future deaths:
1. Establish a parallel Death Review Committee (DRC) for adult deaths in custody;
2. Provide the DRCs with statutory powers to ensure they have capacity to truth find—meaning they can be more than a rubber stamp on an internal investigation—and require that their findings and recommendations be made public;
3. Make reviews into deaths mandatory and build accountability mechanisms into the Act.
East Coast Prison Justice is making a presentation at the Law Amendments Committee this Tuesday night at Province House. We are looking for other individuals or groups to come and show support. Anyone interested in presenting should call (902) 424-8941 on Tuesday morning to book a time to do so.
If you are not able to attend for whatever reason, but want to show your support, you and/or your organization are welcome to endorse our submissions, which are available at tinyurl.com/yy347lq7 If you do so, we will include your name, title, and contact information. If this is something you are able to do, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.