Expanded family violence definition, changes to Schools Act announced in 2018 throne speech

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Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal government outlined its broad objectives for the upcoming session of the House of Assembly in a throne speech given by Lt.-Gov. Frank Fagan on Tuesday.

Some of the planned changes being brought forward include an expansion of the definition of family violence to include psychological, emotional and financial abuse, the introduction of a new Public Health Act, and amendments to the 1997 Schools Act that will allow for alternate instruction when someone's presence would be detrimental to the well-being of others.

Definition of family violence

If and when Bill 1 passes, the definition of family violence in the Family Violence Protection Act will broaden to "send a strong message that all forms of violence are unacceptable, while supporting victims who are experiencing family violence to obtain an Emergency Protection Order to help protect them and their children," said Fagan in his throne speech.

The speech also acknowledged that "public health legislation is more than 50 years old and has not kept pace with the current and changing needs of our population."

To remedy that, Fagan said a new Public Health Act would be introduced in the next sitting of the House of Assembly.

Amendments to the Schools Act come on the heels of a much-discussed situation at Stephenville High School earlier this year, where a student who was accused of sexual assault was permitted to return to his accuser's school to write exams.

At the time, the Newfoundland English School District said it had to follow the Schools Act and needed a court order to prevent him from returning if to school he chose to.

Jackie Lake Kavanagh, the province's Child and Youth Advocate, and Education Minister Dale Kirby were among those who noted following the incident that it was time to update the current legislation to prevent situations like the one in Stephenville from happening again.

Looking forward

Fagan also reasserted the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous communities and the ongoing progress of the Muskrat Falls project and the inquiry that began in January.

The upcoming provincial budget will drop on March 27.

"We must continue to do better with less and build on the work that we have undertaken over the past two years," said Fagan. 

"The challenges are real and we must make every fiscal decision by balancing the provision of critical programs, services and infrastructure that our residents need and deserve with the requirement to eliminate our deficits, return to surplus and pay down our debt."

Read the full version of Fagan's remarks here.