Nova Scotia's justice minister says his government will not ban the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault and harassment, but Brad Johns could not explain his reasoning for the decision when asked on Thursday.
"I don't support NDAs being used as a method to silence victims, but at the same time we're just not moving forward with it right now," he told reporters in Halifax following a cabinet meeting.
"It's a complex issue and there are pros and cons to both sides of the issue."
The issue has been on the Tories' radar almost since coming to power more than two years ago.
Initially, Johns said his department would do a jurisdictional scan before making a decision. That scan, which is now complete, included examining U.S. states where the practice is banned and P.E.I., the first Canadian province to pass legislation limiting how such agreements can be used.
Raising alarm bells
Johns said there were "multiple factors" his government considered in reaching its decision and he said there were also issues identified with the P.E.I. legislation, but he would not detail any of those concerns while speaking to reporters.
"I can follow up with you. I have it written all down," he said. "I don't want to say something and be misquoted, that's all."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the "most insulting part" of Johns's comments was his inability to explain his own government's position.
That "raises a number of alarm bells and suspicions, and does a disservice to survivors and to women across this province," Chender told reporters.
"I think that the message is that the safety and equity of women in this province is not a priority for this government," she said.
"That is the only message that can be taken from this."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender says the fact the minister cannot explain his own government's decision raises alarm bells. (Michael Gorman/CBC)
Liberal MLA Kelly Regan was also unimpressed with Johns.
"To say that, 'We did a jurisdictional scan and we decided not to do it but I can't tell you why' — that's pretty lame."
Regan told reporters that Johns's comments are insulting to women.
"I think it says that, 'We've decided that some other people's concerns are more important than yours.'"
Advocates and lawyers who have called for the banning of NDAs in specific cases say they recognize and do not oppose their use in situations related to things such as business deals and proprietary information. The P.E.I. legislation also includes a provision where two parties can enter into an NDA in cases of sexual assault or harassment if both sides consent and do so without coercion.
Liberal MLA Kelly Regan says the government's position is insulting to women. (CBC)
Liz LeClair, who works with the Can't Buy My Silence advocacy campaign, said in an interview that the government's position is not surprising.
"They're not listening to the people who are marginalized, they're not listening to the people who are on the front lines of these issues."
LeClair noted that the Canadian Bar Association is on record supporting the ban on NDAs in cases of sexual abuse and harassment.
"They are an abuse of power. They are an abuse of the legal system," she said.
"They are a way to keep predatory people within the workplace and other organizations, allowing them to continue to harass and harm others. There is nothing beneficial about not passing this bill."
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