Nova Scotia

Province won't grant early release to domestic violence abusers

Nova Scotia's Department of Justice says it will not grant early release to prisoners who have convictions related to domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

Physical isolation significantly hampers a woman's ability to reach out for help

The United Nations has put out a list of recommendations to help reduce domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock / Yupa Watchanakit)

Nova Scotia's Department of Justice won't grant early release to prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic who have convictions related to domestic violence.

The United Nations has called for abusers not to be released while people are confined to their homes.

After appealing to men to guarantee the safety of women and girls during the pandemic, the United Nations put out a list of recommendations to help reduce domestic violence.

This includes increased investment in services and shelters, making sure judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers during the pandemic, setting up emergency warning systems and to avoid releasing prisoners convicted of violence against women.

Domestic violence court

Nova Scotia's domestic violence court has also adjourned previously scheduled matters between now and the end of May. Those are being rescheduled for a later date.

Jennifer Stairs, communications director for the Nova Scotia judiciary, said provincial court is only hearing urgent and essential matters right now.

That includes arraignments of people in police custody, which are being handled over the phone. Accused people are either released on conditions or remanded to a correctional facility, where they will make their next court appearance by video.

Stairs said any new domestic violence matters will be arraigned through that process. Cases in Sydney or Halifax could then be referred to the domestic violence court program for consideration later.

"Some sentencing hearings and applications to vary release conditions are going ahead, if the judge deems them to be urgent," Stairs said in an email.

"Otherwise, most previously scheduled matters in the domestic violence court between now and the end of May have been adjourned and are being rescheduled. Those accused individuals and their families have access to all the same government and community supports and services to fulfil their individualized support plans. That work can continue without the individuals appearing in court."

The province's domestic violence court program is only offered to individuals who have been charged with an offence that is eligible for a community-based sentence. The program is not eligible for those facing a charge that carries a mandatory jail sentence.

Barbara MacLean, spokesperson for the province's Justice Department, says individuals who have served and completed their sentence are being released as usual once sentences are complete.

MacLean said victim services works with affected individuals to provide information and services any time a violent offender is released.

Need to find safe spaces and shelters

Meghan Hansford, program manager at Adsum for Women and Children in Halifax, said the organization's biggest worry is finding safe spaces and shelters.  

The UN also says the pandemic has led to a shortage of shelter space around the world.

"Family violence and homelessness have been critical and concerning issues long before the pandemic, and now as a society we are recognizing the significance that home and shelter are truly a matter of life and death," Hansford said.

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil addressed domestic violence in Nova Scotia and said the province will do everything it can during the pandemic to support organizations that help women and children.

Hansford said Adsum recently applied to the province's Standing Together grants in the hope of finding more units across the Halifax region to keep women safe.

Resources for victims

But she said because physical isolation significantly hampers a woman's ability to reach out for help, family, friends and neighbours should also be asking how to help.

Those experiencing domestic abuse are urged to call 911 if they are in immediate danger.

People looking for help or information can call the 24-hour line at 1-855-225-0220 or connect with community resources in Nova Scotia by texting 211 or visiting their website.

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