Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's child protection bill amended for 3rd time

The governing Liberals may be hoping the third time's a charm for controversial changes they are proposing to Nova Scotia's child protection law.

'More children will wind up being removed from their homes,' says Dalhousie professor Rollie Thompson

Proposed amendments to Nova Scotia's Children and Family Services Act have drawn a lot of criticism. (Getty Images)

The governing Liberals may be hoping a third time's the charm for controversial changes they are proposing to Nova Scotia's child protection law.

Liberal members on the law amendments committee Monday sided with the opposition parties to send Bill 112 back to department lawyers for more work once again.

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard first introduced the amendments to the Children and Family Services Act back on April 30. She agreed to amend the bill this fall after groups who work with victims of sexual assault criticized it.

The proposed law included a mandatory reporting provision for any third party that dealt with youth aged 16 to 18. Some thought the provision would force teens to remain silent if they were assaulted.

The governing Liberals changed that clause and dozens of others.

When the public got its say at the law amendments committee earlier this month, more criticisms surfaced which forced another rethink.

This time, there were only 11 new amendments.

A 'draconian' bill made worse

According to a lawyer who helped draft the law currently on the books, it made the bill worse, not better.

Rollie Thompson teaches family law at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.

"The bill that was proposed was a draconian bill in the first place," he said. "More children will wind up being removed from their homes. More children will wind up in a temporary foster care. And definitely, and this is one of the purposes of the Act, more children will wind up in permanent care."

Bernard has repeatedly said the changes to the law will not do that and that the aim is to get families with problems the help they need sooner.

But Thompson, among others, said that wasn't possible given the state of resources available to families in need.

He said the difference of opinion stemmed from a key factor.

"People on the ground deal with the reality of Nova Scotia not with the good intentions of the minister," said Thompson.

"We deal with the fact that social assistance has been frozen for two years, that services in homes to families are inadequately funded and will continue to be inadequately funded. We deal with the fact that parents crying for help with issues can't get it in this province."

No more hearings

Bill 112 will eventually return before the law amendments committee, but the Liberals have used their majority on it to prevent a further round of hearings.

Acting committee chair, Liberal Terry Ferrell, spoke for his party in dismissing an opposition motion to allow presenters to critique the coming changes.

"Then we could be in a never-ending process of law amendments where we would be coming back each and every time for additional public consultation on amendments that are based on the public consultation that occurred previously."

That sentiment was quickly dismissed by social worker Debbie Reimer.

"I am so disgusted simply because this is a custom of the law amendments committee we aren't allowed to speak," she said. "This is one of the biggest amendments, like this bill is huge. It's going to affect hundreds of families and we don't as the public have a right to speak? That's ridiculous!"

It's unclear how much time government lawyers will need to review and once again amend Bill 112.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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