Nova Scotia

No review of N.S. police services until mass casualty commission report complete: minister

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns says acting sooner would be premature.

Brad Johns says he's 'very comfortable' with current level of policing in province

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns says recommendations in regard to policing will be included in the mass casualty commission report. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's justice minister says he's aware of analysis of policing services in the province by his department and others, but he's not read it.

"Those are still in draft form," Brad Johns told reporters at Province House on Tuesday. "I'm waiting for them all to come to me as one."

His comments come several weeks after he suggested no such work had taken place. A government spokesperson later clarified that preliminary analysis work had been done, but the former Liberal government ultimately determined the mass casualty commission should be allowed to complete its work first.

Former justice minister Mark Furey ordered the review in December 2020 due to concerns about the looming increase in labour costs for RCMP services, as well as high-profile issues related to RCMP performance, such as a high-speed chase during rush hour, an armed raid near a high school as it was dismissing, and the response to the mass shooting in Portapique.

Waiting on commission report

Johns said Tuesday he has no immediate concerns about policing in the province at any level.

"What I find frustrating at the moment is there almost seems to be this undercurrent of trying to show that there's some kind of conspiracy or that policing isn't doing their job correctly," he said.

"I want the record to be straight — I'm very comfortable with the level of policing in this province at all levels right now."

Johns said it would be premature for the government to make broad decisions about service delivery until after the mass casualty commission, which is tasked with examining events related to last year's mass shooting, completes its work.

"There are going to be recommendations that come out of that in regards to policing. We all know that. I think that independent review needs to be able to go forward," he said.

Report to be released next year

The commission was scheduled to begin public proceedings this month, but recently delayed them until the end of January. A final report of the commission's work is set for public release on Nov. 1, 2022.

But NDP justice critic Claudia Chender said the commission is focused on "a single, awful incident" and that doesn't pre-empt the government from doing its own deep dive sooner, which should include a look at whether the RCMP contract is in the best interest of the province.

"The issues that we need to look at around policing are broad and they encompass multiple issues across the entire province," she told reporters.

Claudia Chender is the NDP justice critic. She says Nova Scotians deserve to know if they're getting value for their money when it comes to policing in the province. (CBC)

The costs of RCMP services continue to go up, particularly in the last year in connection to the mass shooting response and investigation, as well as activities in southwest Nova Scotia related to the moderate livelihood fishery, she said.

"Nova Scotians have a right to know whether they're not just getting value for money, but whether they're getting justice for money. And I don't think that's clear to a lot of people, and so the assertion that we have no issue and there is no need for a policing review is, frankly, puzzling," said Chender.

Johns said he knows the pending increase in the cost of the RCMP contract related to wages will have an effect on municipalities. It's something he expects to look at with Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr, who has been tasked with examining municipal services delivery.

The justice minister said waiting for the recommendations of the mass casualty commission does not mean his department is unable to address specific issues related to policing, such as implementing the remaining recommendations of the Wortley report on street checks and launching the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute.