N.S. says it's improving youth justice system
HALIFAX - Nearly six months after pledging to spend $3 million to reform its youth justice system, the Nova Scotia government is making good progress on streamlining the process and intervening in the lives of at-risk youth, government officials said Thursday.
But Justice Minister Murray Scott said he continues to be disappointed in the lack of movement from Ottawa to toughen the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
"I believe ... people are frustrated and want change in this country when it comes to the (act)," Scott said at a new education centre for at-risk youth in Halifax. "While I'm disappointed with the lack of federal progress, I will continue to advocate for changes."
Scott, who was joined by the ministers of community services, health and health promotion, gave an update on the province's response to recommendations from an inquiry into the death of Theresa McEvoy.
Among the changes, the province has hired more professionals to work with at-risk youth and has expanded its programs and services.
McEvoy, a 52-year-old mother of three, was killed at a Halifax intersection in October 2004 when a stolen car driven by Archie Billard, then 16, crashed into her vehicle at high speed.
Billard pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death and was given an adult sentence of 4 1/2 years.
Earlier this month, Billard, now 18, had his day parole revoked for breaking conditions of his release.
The 11-month inquiry by former justice Merlin Nunn focused on why Billard had been released from custody just two days before the fatal crash despite facing 27 charges related to previous car thefts.
Seven of Nunn's recommendations involved making changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, including allowing judges more discretion to detain youth involved in a "pattern of offences," rather than "patterns of findings of guilt," prior to their trial.
Genevieve Breton, director of communications for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, said the government is committed to strengthening the act, including preparing a consultation paper on pre-trial detention.
Consultations should be complete by the end of the summer, Breton wrote in an email.
Still, Scott said more work needs to be done.
"Do I expect changes forthcoming? Yes, I do," he said, adding he has travelled to Ottawa three times this year to lobby Nicholson. "However, I would have hoped they would have happened by now. Obviously they haven't."
For its part, Scott said Nova Scotia has made a number of changes, including the hiring two new Crown attorneys to work in youth court in Halifax and Sydney.
Three new mental health professionals are also in place at the IWK Health Centre, a Halifax children's hospital, to improve access to mental health assessments and help reduce case processing time.
One psychologist will join the team in October and a fifth position has been posted.
A new youth attendance centre, where Thursday's news conference was held, provides education and counselling for youth under court-ordered community supervision. It also houses a new bail supervision program, and there's talk of possibly expanding the centre to other parts of Nova Scotia next year.
A website was also launched Thursday that identifies provincial services that may be helpful to youth and their families.
And in April, mental health specialist Robert Wright was appointed as head of Youth Strategy and Services -- a provincial strategy focused on the needs of children and youth.
Wright is in charge of co-ordinating the work of five government departments that serve Nova Scotia youth and families.
Community Services Minister Judy Streatch said the department's family services and youth division, created in April, will provide support for families, including parenting programs.
"Some of those programs will have immediate results for families and youth," she said. "Others may take a generation."