HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's Liberal and Tory parties are pointing fingers at one another for "playing politics" with sexual assault.

Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie said Sunday that the Liberal government misled the public when it committed to hiring two special prosecutors to handle sexual assault cases.

The hires were announced in March in the wake of widespread public outcry over the acquittal of a cabbie accused of sexually assaulting a passenger in his car.

Baillie said the move proved to be a politically motivated bait-and-switch when it was revealed that the new Crown lawyers would offer training about sexual assault cases rather than fighting them in court.

"It's just wrong to promise survivors full-time prosecutors and then to provide something less," Baillie said in an interview Sunday. "At this time, when survivors of sexual assault are looking for someone to restore their faith in our justice system, it is inexcusable for the (Stephen) McNeil government to flip-flop on this important of issues."

In a statement, the Tories cited an April letter from the director of Nova Scotia's public prosecution service informing justice department staff that the Crown specialists "will provide support, training, mentoring and specialized guidance to all crown attorneys prosecuting these challenging cases."

Nova Scotia's Crown Attorneys' Association is overburdened with sexual assault cases, according to Baillie, and they need more front-line prosecutors rather than "trainers."

The Liberals fired back with a statement Sunday condemning Baillie's claims as "incorrect and misleading."

"The only person playing politics with sexual assault is Jamie Baillie," the party said. "It's further proof that Jamie Baillie is willing to say anything to get a vote."

The government has made it clear that the special prosecutors will carry caseloads, Liberals said, in addition to assisting cases and providing expertise throughout the courts. They said the roles are designed to provide support for as many victims as possible.

"The issue of sexual assault should be a concern to Nova Scotians every day," Liberal leader Stephen McNeil said in a statement. "It is offensive that Mr. Baillie is trying to politicize this issue."

Sexual assault policy has emerged as a prominent campaign issue in a province that has been roiled in recent years by several high-profile cases involving sexual violence.


Stephen McNeil
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil arrives for an infrastructure announcement as he campaigns in Halifax on Monday, May 1, 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)