N.S. inmate escape notices to be posted online
The Nova Scotia government promised Wednesday to better inform the public when inmates are accidentally released from custody or when there are major disturbances at its jails.
Justice Minister Ross Landry said information about the mistaken release of a prisoner or a lockdown at a jail, for example, will be posted on the department's website.
"We want this information out quickly in a timely manner, but accurate," he told reporters.
"It is our duty to inform the public of major incidents that happen in their justice system. All that information will now be online."
But the new policy doesn't indicate clearly how quickly that information should be conveyed to the public, despite ongoing criticism about government delays in getting the news out.
When asked why there was no mention of the timing, Landry would only say it was implied in the policy that officials should get the information out as quickly as possible.
A news release will also go out in cases that could jeopardize public safety, he said.
News of a major incident will go to the deputy minister, who would then be responsible for determining what can be put online. Sensitive information may be withheld.
Department criticized for slow response
Landry defined a major incident as everything from a lockdown to an assault of someone in custody and a hostage taking.
The department has been criticized over how long it has taken to let the public know that an inmate has either escaped or been mistakenly released.
Landry's department took 26 hours to craft a news release before notifying the public about the mistaken release of a prisoner last year.
The opposition said Wednesday's announcement will do little to improve notification to the media and the public, arguing the policy has no explicit timelines and might give too much discretion to government officials about what can be released.
"The policy introduced today leaves questions about how timely that information will be released and whether that information will be released at all," said Tory Allan MacMaster.
"People should know right away."
Liberal justice critic Michel Samson also panned the measures, saying they miss the point by not setting a deadline for when details have to be made public.
"At the end of the day, it's more a means of avoiding embarrassment for the government than concerns for Nova Scotian safety," he said.
Landtry stressed that releasing some information might put people at risk or impede the capture of an escapee.