HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Liberal government has introduced legislative changes that would see domestic violence deaths and unexpected deaths of children in government care reviewed by expert committees.
Justice Minister Mark Furey said Tuesday the proposed changes to the Fatality Investigations Act would create a domestic violence death review committee and a child death review committee.
The committees, Furey said, "give us a way to turn tragedy into lessons learned and lives saved into the future. The more we can learn from these tragic situations, the better equipped we are to prevent them in the first place."
He said the domestic violence committee would review all homicides and homicide-suicides that are the result of violence between intimate partners and ex-partners and could include the death of a child or other family members.
The child death committee would review unexpected deaths of children under the age of 19 in the care or custody of the province, while also examining trends in the deaths of all young people under the age of 25.
The minister would also have discretion to strike committees in deaths that fall outside the purview of those two standing committees.
Furey said the committees are important because they would allow a thorough review of the circumstances surrounding a death, including how it happened and why. They would also ask difficult questions about what could have been done better in terms of prevention, he said.
However, recommendations by the committees, which will be chaired by the province's chief medical examiner Dr. Matt Bowes, would not be binding, and the information contained in the investigations would be exempt from the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Furey said regulations that are still being worked on will determine how much information on individual cases is made public.
"I don't see any reason why we wouldn't make the public aware when a committee is sitting, but it would be limited information," he said.
Bowes said he expects there would be about three investigations a year from each committee.
"Although each case is different . . . I think that we can recognize when some government system has underperformed or where it could have done a better job," said Bowes. "I think taking that lesson and turning it into good public policy is the objective here."
Similar reviews are already conducted in seven other provinces.
Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia have child death review committees. New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Alberta have domestic violence death review committees.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2019.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press